Kate's Notes

Monday, March 19, 2007

Rachael Ray

Rachael Ray

Rachael Domenica Ray (born August 25, 1968) is a celebrity chef, who has developed her knack for simple easy, "eyeballing it" cooking into a small empire, and media blitz. She is an Emmy-winning television personality and author, who currently hosts the syndicated series “Rachael Ray,” in addition to hosting four different programs on cable television's Food Network – “30 Minute Meals,” “$40 a Day,” “Inside Dish,” and “Rachael Ray's Tasty Travels.” She has also authored a series of cookbooks based on the “30 Minute Meals” concept.

Early Life and Career

Born in Glens Falls, New York, Ray's family is Sicilian-American on her mother's side and French American on her father's side. Ray says she was born into cooking. "My first vivid memory is watching mom in a restaurant kitchen. She was flipping something with a spatula. I tried to copy her and ended up grilling my right thumb! I was three or four," says Rachael. “Everyone on both sides of my family cooks."

The Ray family owned several restaurants on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Later, the family relocated to upstate New York, where her mother went to work as the food supervisor for a chain of restaurants. "I was surrounded by all different styles of cooking, and worked in the food service industry in just about every capacity you can imagine.” Ray's parents divorced when she was 13, and her mother took a job as a food supervisor in upstate New York.

She attended high school in Lake George, New York, a small town in the Adirondack Mountains, where she was a cheerleader and worked part-time as a waitress for her mother. Before graduating in 1986, Rachael was already an entrepreneur, running her own gift basket service on the side.

In 1993, after graduating from college, Rachael returned to Lake George and rented a cabin. However, she moved to New York City two years later due to a lack of opportunities back home. She found a job at the Macy's Marketplace candy counter, and was soon promoted to manager of the Fresh Foods department. She was able to learn a lot about gourmet foods, and she used that knowledge to help open and manage Agata & Valentina, a prestigious New York gourmet marketplace. But following bad personal experiences in the city, including a breakup and a mugging, Rachael moved back to Lake George in 1997. There Ray managed Mister Brown's Pub at The Sagamore, a famous hotel on Lake George. From there, she became a buyer at Cowan & Lobel, a gourmet market in suburban Albany. Ray credits the concept of “30 Minute Meals” to her experience working at the store where she met people reluctant to cook. She began teaching a cooking course there showing people how to make meals in 30 minutes or less.

With the success of her "30 Minute Meals" classes, WRGB, the local CBS television affiliate, asked her to appear in a weekly segment on their newscasts. This, along with a public radio appearance and the publication of her first book, led to a “Today Show” spot and her first Food Network contract in 2001. She also appeared in a few commercials for Schenectady-based grocery chain Price Chopper, which stocks all her books at their stores and retains her as an occasional spokesperson.

Ray owns homes in Lake Luzerne, New York and Manhattan's Greenwich Village. On September 24, 2005, in Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy, Ray married John Cusimano, a lawyer and member of the band The Cringe.

Cooking Techniques

Ray teaches simple recipes that she claims can be prepared in 30 minutes or less. She uses garlic and chicken stock as simple ways to boost flavors. She often uses recipes that include her Italian, French, and American heritage, and Ray emphasizes using fresh herbs whenever possible. She believes that measuring "takes away from the creative, hands-on process of cooking" and instead favors approximations such as "half a palmful" and "eyeball it." On her television programs she has used catchphrases such as "E.V.O.O." (extra-virgin olive oil), "yum-o," "so delish," "G.B." (garbage bowl), "stoup" (cross between a soup and stew), and "how good is THAT?" She often refers to sandwiches as "sammies."

She claims to dislike baking desserts and to be notorious for burning bread under the broiler. Ray says her Sicilian maternal grandfather, Emmanuel Scuderi, served as a strong influence on her cooking. To critics of her shortcut techniques, Ray responds, "I have no formal anything. I'm completely unqualified for any job I've ever had."

The retro look of the set she uses on the Food Network features, among other things, a beautiful yellow 1950's Model C Chambers stove. While this stove isn't often used on her program, it is noticed by viewers, so much so that people selling them often refer to Chambers ranges as "the Rachel Ray stove." This has led to an increased interest in saving and restoring these stoves, inspiring both an online discussion forum and a website, as well as numerous references to them in the media.


Reader's Digest launched Ray's eponymous magazine, Every Day with Rachael Ray in conjunction with Reader's Digest. The magazine premiered on October 25, 2005 and featured seven issues in 2006. It will increase to ten issues in 2007.

In addition to her television hosting and cookbooks, Ray has endorsed products for Price Chopper supermarkets and Burger King, and has appended her name to a line of cookware and cutlery. When she endorsed Wüsthof's, sales rose dramatically; she now endorses her own line of santoku knives.

In 2003, she posed for the men's magazine FHM. The New York Times wrote, "The shots feature Ray in short-shorts with an exposed midriff, licking chocolate off a big wooden spoon, eating a strawberry and sitting in a sink, laughing as suds cascade down her thighs." One year later she was named #92 on FHM "100 Sexiest Women 2004." Most recently, she was featured in FHM "100 Sexiest Women 2006," ranking at #71.

In late 2005, Ray signed a deal with Oprah Winfrey and King World Productions to host a syndicated daytime television talk show. The show, Rachael Ray premiered on September 18, 2006. Recurrent appearances on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" were used to fuel the launch, much like Dr. Phil's show was spun off based on his own frequent visits to Oprah. The show tapes in New York City, and Ray will continue to appear on the Food Network. Ray said, in coordination with the syndication announcement, "People know me for my love of food, but I have so much more I want to share." On the September 19 episode of “The Insider,” host Lara Spencer characterized the ratings for the show as "a monster hit.”

In addition to Oprah, Ray has appeared on “The View,” “The Today Show,” “The Tonight Show” with “Jay Leno,” “The Late Show with David Letterman,” “Late Night with Conan O'Brien,” and “Larry King Live.”

In 2006, "Ray's 30 Minute Meals" received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Service Show. Ray was also nominated for Outstanding Service Show Host, but lost to Suze Orman.
Ray was also named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people of 2006. She was nominated by fellow Food Network star Mario Batali.

According to Forbes magazine, Ray earns about $6 million per year from her books and television shows (excluding her new show, "Rachael Ray").

On November 12, 2006 Mario Batali and Rachael defeated the team of Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis on an episode of the program "Iron Chef America," which featured the use of cranberries as the secret ingredient.

In November 2006, Ray became a spokesperson for Nabisco crackers. She appears in commercials and on boxes for the many Nabisco products. Many boxes with Ray's picture have recipes written by her.

The Oxford American College Dictionary will add the term EVOO, short for Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which Ray has helped popularize.

Ray announced on her show, on February 21, 2007, that a wax creation was made of her. This wax figure will be on display at Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum in New York City.

On March 18, 2007, Food Network debuted a Rachel Ray episode of their special Chefography series.


Some have criticized Ray's "perky" demeanor as well as her lack of a formal chef's education and perceived lack of seriousness about cooking. bCelebrity chef and Travel Channel personality Anthony Bourdain, who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, has referred to her as a "bobblehead.”

In a Slate article defending Ray, Jill Hunter Pellettieri summarized some of these criticisms by writing: “Ray's ditzy demeanor also makes her easy to dismiss. She giggles off-cue and constantly praises her own cooking. "Smells awesome already!" she says, making her Snapper in a Snap. "I am so psyched about that." She employs kitschy abbreviations—EVOO means "extra virgin olive oil", and gives her dishes nicknames, such as "You-Won't-Be-Single-for-Long Vodka Cream Pasta." The acknowledgments in her $40 a Day cookbook read like a high-school yearbook: "Don …You are the tallest man we've ever had on crew, and yet you pack the smallest bag—ever! Cool." And, it didn't boost her credibility when she posed for pinup shots in FHM. (One featured Ray licking chocolate off a spoon.) When the magazine hit newsstands, she said, "I think it is kinda cool for someone who is goofy, and a cook, just a normal person to be thought of in that way.”

The "30 Minute Meals" concept has been criticized because Ray doesn't account for certain preparation times in the signature half-hour cooking time. Many of these preparations, such as pre-washing herbs and vegetables, are not meal-specific, and Ray counsels they should be done ahead of time. In the Slate article that otherwise mostly complimented her, author Pellettieri went through several of Ray's "30 Minute Meals" recipes and was unable to complete any meal in under half an hour.

Ray has indicated on her cooking show that it may take others over 30 minutes but the point being that it's still fast and simple. Despite describing her recipes as "figure-friendly," Ray does not provide nutritional information.

The New York Times has noted that one of the prices of her popularity has been an "anti-fan site," a LiveJournal page titled "Rachael Ray Sucks." The page's creator acknowledges that it was created partially in jest, and Ray herself has laughed it off.


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