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.


verplanck colvin said...

Her TV persona is a bit grating to me, a bit over-enthusiastic in what she does, but I recognize that is probably an essential part of her schtick that makes her popular. However, her cooking is perfect for getting folks back into the kitchen, though, and makes things more accessible. That's a very good thing. No need to hate on her. They make fun of her accent? I think that's the first time I heard of people denegrating a north-country accent. Kinda amusing.

I didn't realize she had a show on WRGB, I'm surprised I never saw it growing up (I loved the cooking shows), all I remember is "Mr. Food" on channel 6.

Patricia said...

Amen to that! My family and I love Rachael Ray, and I really appreciate the fact that she cooks stuff my kids will actually eat, and that doesn't require buying hugely expensive ingredients or spending hours in the kitchen. I also like the way she improvs recipes. I'm not a recipe follower or ingredient measurer, except when I bake, and I love seeing a successful food person on TV not worry about measuring out *exactly* 2 tablespoons of oil, etc. You watch some of the other Food Network shows and those people make you think you can ruin a whole dinner by incorrectly measuring a cup of chicken broth. Rachael makes cooking fun and unpretentious. That's probably why "real" chefs disdain her success.

Stacey said...

I've met Rachael Ray and she is indeed a class act. She took time out of her closely-guarded downtime to sit for an interview for The Times Union. And when you consider the millions of things she has going on in her professional life, well...let's just say I was fortunate to get a yes from her. She was extremely gracious and accomodating and is completely loyal and devoted to her Adirondack Homeland.

As for the critics: She's smart enough to know most American families don't have time to cook like they live in Europe; she's gotten people cooking and families eating together at the table; and she's one of the few women celebs who openly admits to loving food (think about how rare that is). Yes America, it's ok to moan when you're eating. Hello? Wasn't food meant to be enjoyed. She brings it out of the closet.

Besides, a devout dog-lover has my vote anyday!

hoohaaa mama said...

you must be joking. ugh.