York Stater of the Month, August 2006: Rachael Ray
Believe it or not, but America's most popular and most frequently disparaged television chef is actually a native Adirondacker. Growing up in Lake Luzerne, she had a difficult childhood and young adulthood-- her parents divorced when she was 13, she worked a supermarkets for years and barely made the rent payments on the family house that she shared with her mother. She finally took the step that so many of our young people do: she moved south. To New York City.
In the City she found herself distinctly out of her element and after a bad breakup and a violent mugging, she returned home. It was here that the story of the "30 Minute Meal" begins, in a Safeway in Schenectady. She began giving cooking classes at supermarkets and then on the local CBS affiliate. Finally, after self-publishing her first cook book, she's was "discovered" by Food Network.
Today, Ray has three shows on food network, her own line of cooking tools, a magazine, an extensive website and four of the ten bestselling cookbooks of last year. Not too bad for a girl from Lake Luzerne.
Of course, Rachael has drawn her detractors who disparage her for a lack of elegance in her food, which uses short-cuts and common ingredients (well, she has to do it in 30 minutes). Some even blast her for having a "regional accent," which is, of course, probably the one that she shares with the rest of us rubes here in Upstate New York. There are entire blogs dedicated to attacking Rachael Ray.
I, despite my love for elaborate, time-consuming food, am a big fan of Rachael Ray. This admiration stemmed from the fact that she cooked the kmind of food that normal people eat; yes, I love to make big dishes for special events, but let's face it, most people are pressed for time, tired and hungry at night and don't want to create some French delicacy. Rachael Ray, like Julia Child, democratizes and humanizes cooking. She does her best to make food, cooking it and enjoying it, available for all people, not just those with the time and money to have well-equipped kitchens and use them properly.
As an Upstater, Ray has remained ever loyal to her local town. She does fundraisers for local charities and has bought the family home, where she spends as much time as she can. She knows where she's from and isn't ashamed or afraid of her community. For all those reasons, plus the fact that she's so dammed cute, I would like to salute Rachael Ray as York Stater of the Month.