Paula Deen News: She Asked Me to Dress Like Aunt Jemima, Says Longtime Cook

Dora Charles Was Head of Deen's Kitchen for 20 Years Making $10 an Hour
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(Photo: Screen Grab via NBC)Celebrity chef Paula Deen breaks down on the NBC's Today on Wednesday June 26, 2013

The Paula Deen news released Thursday paints an even more dismal picture for the beleaguered chef, as one of her close friends accused the chef of more racial and demeaning behavior. Dora Charles, a 59-year-old African-American cook who has worked for Deen for 22 years, said Deen tried to make her and others conform to racial stereotypes and paid black employees less than their white counterparts.

The Paula Deen news was exposed via The New York Times, who chronicled what Charles called racial injustice— while Deen was making millions off of her restaurants, TV shows and cookbooks, Charles was making $10 an hour. When Charles first started as the head of Deen's kitchen, she said the soul food chef had promised her riches if she stuck with her. But after creating recipes, helping to open her restaurants and training other cooks, Charles said she was paid very little, and still had to live in a mobile home.

"Stick with me, Dora, and I promise you one day if I get rich you'll get rich," Charles recounted Deen as saying.

Adding salt to the wound, Charles said that Deen sometimes used racial slurs, and asked the cook to ring a bell in the front of the restaurant and tell people to "come and get it."

"I said, 'I'm not ringing no bell,'" Charles told The Times. "That's a symbol to me of what we used to do back in the day.'"

Deen, 66, apparently accepted Charles' refusal, but found another African-American woman to do the job instead: Ineta Jones. Jones, a hoecake cook, was pictured ringing an iron dinner bell in the front of the restaurant on a postcard sold at Deen's stores, according to The Times. But Jones drew the line at Deen's request to put on a Southern-style Aunt Jemima outfit.

"Jellyroll didn't want to hear that," Charles said, using Jones' nickname. "She didn't want to do that."

Despite Charles' claims, she never pursued a lawsuit in court because she said she didn't have the resources. Jones also refused to speak negatively against Deen or confirm the accusations of racism.

"Fundamentally Dora's complaint is not about race but about money," a statement from Deen's camp read. "It is about an employee that despite over 20 years of generosity feels that she still deserves yet even more financial support from Paula Deen."

Charles, who said she and Deen were "soul sisters" before the mogul's cooking empire began, said she is still friends with her because she is a Christian.

"It's just time that everybody knows that Paula Deen don't treat me the way they think she treat me," she said.