02/24/2014 AT 06:00 PM EST
stepped out at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival to love and affection from hundreds of fans.
The former Food Network star, 67, took the Miami stage on Sunday to a standing ovation and addressed attendees about the tough year
that she has weathered.
"We have come off a very hard summer," Deen – who admitted in a deposition to using a racial slur years ago and was subsequently dropped by the Food Network
and several sponsors – said at the start of her cooking demonstration. "Some people said I never apologized. If anyone did not hear me, I want to apologize."
Deen has mostly been laying low since then. "I just have to say your cards and letters helped me get out of bed every day," the Southern chef told fans.
The appearance comes just two weeks after her new company, Paula Deen Ventures, received an investment
between $75 million and $100 million from Najafi Cos.
The crowd also cheered when Food Network star
Robert Irvine, who survived a resumé padding scandal in2008, joined Deen onstage.
"You've apologized, you've eaten crow," Irvine said. "Don't do it anymore."
Irvine then got on his hands and knees so Deen could straddle him: "I'm back in the saddle again!" she said as they rode across the stage.
Reporting by LIZA HAMM