Chef and television personality
Born Rachael Domenica Ray, August 25, 1968, in Cape Cod, MA; daughter of Jim Ray (a publisher) and Elsa Scuderi (a restaurateur); married John Cusimano (an attorney), September 24, 2005.
Addresses: Agent—William Morris Agency, 1325 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019. Contact—King World Productions, 1700 Broadway, New York, NY 10019. Home—Greenwich Village, NYC. Office—The Food Network, 75 Ninth Ave., New York, NY 10011. Website—http://www.rachaelraymag.com.
Began career at candy counter, Macy's Marketplace, New York, NY, working way up to fresh-foods manager, 1990s; store manager and buyer, Agata & Valentina gourmet market, New York, NY, mid- or late 1990s; manager of resort pubs and restaurants, upstate New York, late 1990s; food buyer and chef, Cowan & Lobel market, Albany, NY, late 1990s; host of weekly evening news cooking show, 30-Minute Meals, on an Albany, NY, television station, late 1990s; signed contract with the Food Network, 2001; began hosting 30 Minute Meals, 2002; began hosting $40 a Day, 2002; began hosting Inside Dish with Rachael Ray, 2004; began hosting Rachael Ray's Tasty Travels, 2005; became editor-in-chief of Every Day with Rachael Ray, 2005; began hosting her own syndicated talk show, The Rachael Ray Show, 2006.
Awards: Named "One of the 100 Sexiest Women," FHM magazine (U.S. edition), 2004; Daytime Emmy Award for outstanding service show, National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, for 30 Minute Meals, 2006.
Rachael Ray burst onto the cable cooking scene in 2002 as host of the Food Network's 30 Minute Meals. Viewers found her free-tongued, unrestrained style refreshing and by 2005, Ray had four shows in regular rotation on the network and was producing more than 13 hours of programming a week, drawing 18 million viewers. Network television came calling and in 2006, The Rachael Ray Show, a one-hour syndicated talk show, debuted on CBS.
The Food Network phenom, a middle child, was born on August 25, 1968, in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to Jim Ray and Elsa Scuderi. Before her Italian mother and Cajun father divorced, they owned a restaurant in Cape Cod. Most of Ray's childhood was spent in Lake George, New York. Her mother worked 40 years as a chef and manager at various restaurants in the area. "My mother didn't like strangers watching her children, so we all were in the restaurants from the time we were born," Ray told People magazine. "We did every crap job there was—dishwasher, busgirl."
Ray graduated from high school in 1986 and in the 1990s moved to New York City, where she landed a job at the candy counter at Macy's Marketplace and worked her way up to manager of the fresh-foods department. After about two years, Ray left Macy's to become store manager and buyer for Agata & Valentina, an upscale gourmet marketplace. After surviving a violent mugging, Ray decided to leave the city and head home to the Adirondacks, where she rented a cabin on three acres. She found work managing local resort pubs and restaurants, then became a food buyer and chef for Cowan & Lobel, located in Albany, New York.
While working there, Ray noticed a trend—many of the store's customers never actually cooked. "So I took over the kitchen … and the customers are buying the prepared food, but I can't get them to buy more groceries," Ray told the Washington Post's Candy Sagon. "They said they didn't have the time to cook or they didn't know how or they just didn't want to be bothered." This gave Ray an idea—she decided to offer classes at the store demonstrating how to make easy, no-fuss meals with simple ingredients. Brides-to-be, scout groups, and senior citizens flocked to the classes, which became so popular they sold out. Soon, an Albany television station asked Ray to do a weekly evening news "30-minute meal" segment. This local show featured Ray traveling to a different viewer's home each week and teaching the resident to cook a meal using the time-saving tips she had picked up in busy restaurants over the years. Ray cooked in fire stations, dorm rooms, and senior centers. In 1999, Ray compiled her recipes into a cookbook, 30-Minute Meals. Available only in grocery stores, it sold 10,000 copies in ten days.
In 2001, the Today show caught wind of Ray and invited her to cook soup alongside its anchors. She nailed the segment and the Food Network began courting her. Ray, however, was nervous that she would not fit in alongside the network's celebrity chefs like Emeril Lagasse. Speaking to Newsweek's Marc Peyser, Ray recalled an early discussion. "The first thing I said at my Food Network meeting was, 'I don't belong here. You guys are champagne, and I'm beer out of a bottle. I'm not a chef. I can't even learn to be a chef. I chop onions wrong.'" The network offered her a $360,000 contract anyway.
30 Minute Meals first aired in 2002. Despite Ray's initial lack of confidence, viewers tuned in to see the perky, unguarded host. Over the next few years, Ray gained many followers—but also a legion of detractors. Hatred for Ray's amateur style runs so deep that food purists have launched anti-Ray blogging sites. On her show, Ray employs many foodie no-nos, including the use of boxed ingredients and frozen vegetables. She makes recipes like "jambalika," a variation of the traditional jambalaya. While foodies take issue with her practices, fans love her. They say she understands how real people—pressed for time—cook. Another distinguishing feature is that Ray cooks in real time. Veggies are not chopped beforehand. Ray opens cans on the air and rips wrappers off meat packages.
What gets on critics' nerves most are Ray's off-cue giggles and cutesy food lexicon. Instead of saying extra-virgin olive oil, Ray invented the catchphrase EVOO. She also says "Yum-O" a lot, refers to sandwiches as "sammies" and mozzarella cheese as "motz." Ray also instructs viewers to measure the EVOO with "two turns of the pan," meaning to take two turns around the pan pouring the olive oil instead of using a measuring spoon. Ray favors other time-saving approximations such as "half a palm-full." Food purists cringe, but fans find Ray highly entertaining and enjoy her easy recipes.
Despite detractors, Ray became so popular the network added more shows to her repertoire. In 2002, Ray launched $40 a Day. On this show, cameras film Ray as she visits various destinations and tries to eat three flavorful meals on 40 bucks a day. Inside Dish with Rachael Ray, which began airing in 2004, features Ray gossiping with celebrities in their kitchens. In 2005, Rachael Ray's Tasty Travels debuted. It follows Ray around the globe as she tastes the different types of foods the world has to offer. Ray also launched Every Day with Rachael Ray in 2005, a bimonthly magazine that features cooking tips, shopping advice, and recipes.
At home, Ray does not let her husband, John Cusimano, watch her shows because she is afraid it will make her self-conscious. To keep up with demands, Ray sleeps only about five hours a night and guzzles tons of coffee. She stays busy writing four columns for each issue of her magazine and churns out about 600 recipes a year. For Ray, life shows no signs of slowing down. In 2006, The Rachael Ray Show arrived on network television, distributed in partnership with Oprah Winfrey's production company, Harpo. The program is not the typical sit-in-cozy-chairs talk show—Ray's casual chatting with celebrities takes place at a kitchen table. Sometimes, guests play basketball or enjoy a cup of coffee. Only time will tell if Ray can make the format successful—and juggle the show alongside her Food Network duties.
30-Minute Meals, Lake Isle Press, 1999.
Veggie Meals, Lake Isle Press, 2001.
Comfort Foods, Lake Isle Press, 2001.
30-Minute Meals 2, Lake Isle Press, 2003.
Get Togethers, Lake Isle Press, 2003.
Cooking 'Round the Clock, Lake Isle Press, 2004.
Cooking Rocks! Rachael Ray's 30-Minute Meals for Kids, Lake Isle Press, 2004.
$40 a Day: Best Eats in Town, Lake Isle Press, 2004.
30-Minute Get Real Meals: Eat Healthy Without Going to Extremes, Clarkson Potter, 2005.
Rachael Ray 365: No Repeats—a Year of Deliciously Different Dinners, Clarkson Potter, 2005.
Rachael Ray Express Lane Meals: What to Keep on Hand, What to Buy Fresh for the Easiest-Ever 30-Minute Meals, Clarkson Potter, 2006.
Rachael Ray's Open House Cookbook: Over 200 Recipes for Easy Entertaining, Lake Isle Press, 2006.
Rachael Ray 2, 4, 6, 8: 30-Minute Meals for Couples or Crowds, Clarkson Potter, 2006.
Houston Chronicle, May 17, 2006, Section: Flavor, p. 1.
Newsweek, September 12, 2005, p. 72.
New York Times, October 19, 2005, p. F1.
People, December 5, 2005, pp. 109-12.
USA Today, July 17, 2006, p. D3.
Washington Post, January 14, 2004, p. F1.
"Rachael Ray," Food Network, http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/rachael_ray/0,1974,FOOD_9928,00.html (June 26, 2006).