Dora Charles, a worker for Paula Deen

Dora Charles, a longtime employee of Paula Deen, said she was not treated fairly, a claim. Deen denies.

*Apparently, there is still a lot of dirt under the rug where Paula Deen is concerned.

Dora Charles was the queen of the Deen kitchens for 22 years. She helped open restaurants that made Paula Deen’s career; developed recipes, trained other cooks and made sure everything down to the collard greens tasted right.

“If it’s a Southern dish,” Deen once said, “you better not put it out unless it passes this woman’s tongue.”

You see, Dora Charles and Paula Deen were soul sisters. At least that’s what Deen called her from the start, even before the books and the television shows and the millions of dollars, writes New York Times reporter Kim Severson.

On the other hand, Charles’ salary guaranteed she wouldn’t get rich working for Deen. She told Severson that she spent years making less than $10 an hour, even after Deen became a Food Network star. And there were tough moments. In the interview, she said Deen used racial slurs and once she wanted Dora Charles to ring a dinner bell in front of the restaurant, hollering for people to come and get it.

“I said, ‘I’m not ringing no bell,’ ” Mrs. Charles said. “That’s a symbol to me of what we used to do back in the day.”

For a black woman in Savannah with a ninth-grade education, though, it was good steady work. And Ms. Deen, she said, held out the promise that together, they might get rich one day.

Now, Ms. Deen, 66, is fighting empire-crushing accusations of racism, and Mrs. Charles, 59 and nursing a bad shoulder, lives in an aging trailer home on the outskirts of Savannah.

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

The relationship between Mrs. Charles and Ms. Deen is a complex one, laced with history and deep affection, whose roots can be traced back to the antebellum South. Depending on whether Mrs. Charles or Ms. Deen tells the story, it illustrates lives of racial inequity or benevolence.

Jessica B. Harris, a culinary scholar whose books have explored the role of Africans in the Southern kitchen, said Ms. Deen and Mrs. Charles are characters in a story that has been played out since slaves started cooking for whites. “Peering through the window of someone else’s success when you have been instrumental in creating that success is not a good feeling,” Ms. Harris said. “Think about who made money from the blues.”

Read/learn more about this complex relationship at NY Times.