Rachael Ray's happy, with good reason

The Food Network host has a new show, another cookbook and an ever-expanding empire

September 17, 2006|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,Sun Reporter

She's groovy. She's cool. She's yummo!

She's Rachael Ray and even if you own all of her cookbooks, (soon to number 16), have seen all of her Food Network programs, (a total of four), and read every issue of her magazine, Every Day with Rachael Ray, (going monthly in October), you still haven't spent enough time with her.

Thank goodness Rachael Ray, a daily, one-hour syndicated talk show, launches tomorrow.

Described in press materials as "an exciting and unpredictable hour of fun that celebrates the can-do spirit in every person and gives viewers the essentials for whole-hearted living," the show was tailored to Ray's bubbly personality and infectious curiosity.

Expect no soggy heart-to-hearts on the couch, Ray said last week during a media conference call. "I don't want any sad tears on the show. We're not very serious people."

Do expect kitchen-table chats, as well as games, travel adventures and tips, all with "a different spin," she said.

A makeover segment, for example, might showcase "hot seniors" instead of the usual suspects, Ray said. "Who cares if one good-looking person makes up another good-looking person?"

In another occasional feature, "We ask our viewers over the Internet and in the studio to send us [a note about whatever] they were afraid of. We'll buddy up and dive into those things together," Ray said. This week, a woman with a fear of heights leaps out of a plane with the perky host.

Ray supporters

During the premiere week of Rachael Ray, Diane Sawyer and Oprah Winfrey will drop by to chat and eat. "We trade recipes. Oprah gets down and dirty in the kitchen," said Ray, 38, who notes that the mega-celebrity took her meal home "in a big doggie box."

The lively visits that Ray has paid to Oprah in the past led Winfrey to back Ray's new endeavor, a co-production of Harpo Productions and King World Productions.

"I think people see [Ray] as one of them and she sees herself as one of them," said Janet Annino, executive producer of Rachael Ray.

Around the world, people are "very comfortable coming up and asking her questions," Annino explained. "They want her to help them figure out solutions for changing their lives."

Besides the Winfrey seal of approval, Annino said, Ray's rising star got a push from the 7-year-old child of Terry Wood, King World's president of creative development. The executive came home one day to see her daughter Olivia watching Ray on the Food Network. Wood inquired why she was watching the show. "I love her because she's happy," came the reply. That was persuasion enough for Wood, Annino said.

The new show may have been green-lighted by a 7-year-old, but it was developed by Ray and a King World team who brainstormed together in the corporate "War Room," an "icky name to call something," Ray said. "We'd all sit around in our blue jeans with our babies and our dogs," to hash out ideas, she said. "We just look at everything kind of backwards from the way you might expect. We try to make it friendlier."

All ideas for features and episodes are filtered through Ray's playful sensibilities, a process Annino calls the "Rachaelmegizing" of the show. "It's important that she owns everything."

Get up; break it down

Even as she dispenses advice for buying shoes, overcoming fears and seizing the most from life, Ray also remains in the Food Network lineup with 30 Minute Meals, $40 a Day and Rachael Ray's Tasty Travels.

She's a workaholic - like most Americans, Ray said. "We live hard, work hard and play hard, too." Her method for multi-tasking on multiple shows: "Get up and break it down into small increments your brain can handle."

The daughter of parents who both worked in the restaurant business, Ray grew up in upstate New York. She, too, gravitated early to the world of food. When she offered a cooking class called 30 Minute Mediterranean Meals at the Albany gourmet shop where she worked, Ray's career took a serendipitous turn. A feature story about the popular class led to a weekly cooking segment for a local television station.

Not long after that, an appearance on the Today Show and further publicity on a public radio station caught the attention of the Food Network.

In November 2001, 30 Minute Meals had its premiere on the Food Network, and ever since, Ray has been racing around the world, tirelessly dining and cooking and burbling gleefully. (A recent Tasty Travels episode was devoted to Baltimore, where Ray dined at Gertrude's, Golden West Cafe, Lexington Market and Jimmy's, among numerous spots.)

"My life has really taken on a life of its own," Ray said. "Not to sound too `Kumbaya' and crunchy about it; it was a really organic thing. It grew itself. I'm trying to get up every day and follow the branches of the vine."

Very little of Ray's life seems to take place off stage. Even her 2005 marriage in Tuscany to entertainment lawyer and punk musician John Cusimano was chronicled in her magazine, and wedding photos are posted on rachaelray mag.com.

She claims she finds time to relax out of the limelight with Cusimano and her dog Isaboo (who has inspired more than a few of her mistress' recipes). "My husband and I are very very much alike," Ray said. "We eat really late, we love to cook and watch cop shows. We have a lot of quality time together. It's just a little later than everybody else's quality time."

Before the conference call concluded, a reporter asked the irrepressible Ray if she had any fears she has yet to overcome. "Deep tissue massage creeps me out," she said. "Nothing freaks me out more than a stranger kneading me like pizza dough."

Perhaps that's one segment, despite its lifestyle and culinary implications, that won't appear on any of Ray's shows.

stephanie.shapiro@baltsun.com

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