Rachel Ray – A Star in Chef Uniforms
By Alice Lane
Rachel Ray is the kind of personality in chef uniforms who people either love or hate. Millions of her fans adore her down-to-earth style and her quirkiness. But others, which includes many food writers and celebrity chefs, heap her with criticism. There are entire blogs devoted only to slamming this Anti Martha Stewart (as she proclaims herself).
It isn’t difficult to dismiss her as an amateur, since she uses ingredients from boxes, dislikes specialty foods in her recipes, often uses silly nicknames for her food and abbreviations such as EVOO (extra virgin olive oil). She makes juvenile remarks and giggles while she’s cooking. But what Rachael’s critics fail to appreciate is that she is entertaining – and that’s what her fans love about her. If someone is only interested in knowing a recipe, they can buy a cookbook, or watch one of the dozens of TV cooking shows. Her fans love Rachael because she has an engaging personality and is someone people can relate to. Also, her recipes fit in with the American way of life – they are easy, cheap, and fast to make.
Rachael grew up in a family of professional cooks, who owned restaurants on Massachusetts’ Cape Cod. One of Rachael’s first memories, about age three, is watching her mother cook in the restaurant kitchen, flipping a pancake with a spatula. When Rachael tried to copy her she wound up grilling her thumb. When she was a teenager, Rachael’s family moved to upstate New York where her mother obtained a job as food supervisor for a restaurant chain. Since then Rachael has been surrounded by many different cooking styles, and has been employed in the food service industry in many different capacities.
Her professional career began when she went to work at the candy counter in New York’s Macy’s Marketplace, where she was soon promoted to be manager of their fresh foods department. This experience prepared her to take over as buyer and store manager at Agata & Valentina, New York City’s celebrated gourmet market. Although she found her city career enjoyable, she longed to return to the country lifestyle of the Adirondacks, so she left New York and put on restaurant uniforms to manage pubs and restaurants at Lake George’s Sagamore Resort. Soon Albany’s gourmet market Cowan & Lobel recruited her to become their food buyer. To publicize the market Rachael started teaching cooking classes, called 30 Minute Meals. Her classes became very popular and were soon covered by the local TV news program. A week later Albany’s TV station asked her to film a 30 Minute Meals segment every week for their evening news program. Rachael’s show was a huge success and was nominated for two regional Emmy awards. Eventually her program moved to the Food Network, where she became a national star.
30 Minute Meals is most definitely not a gourmet program; and probably Martha Stewart winces at it. Rachael uses boxed ingredients, cuts corners, and abhors specialty ingredients, preferring to use only what she can obtain at her local supermarket. As a result, she has been on the receiving end of much bad press, from the general media as well as from chefs. In Rachael’s defense it must be said that her cooking is reality, as far as most Americans are concerned. In the real world people don’t have time to spend hours cooking haut cuisine every night. Besides her 30 Minute Meals, Rachael’s Food Network shows include $40 a Day, which explains how to enjoy good eating while traveling; Inside Dish, in which Rachael visits the homes and kitchens of American celebrities; and Rachael Ray’s Tasty Travels, in which Rachael shares travel tips and secrets to make hotel uniforms vacations as tasty as can be. Rachael has also launched Rachael Ray Magazine, in which she shares shopping advice, cooking tips, and easy recipes.
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