My sister-in-law introduced me to Rachael Ray’s Food Network programs and I instantly became a fan. I enjoyed watching her prepare tasty yet manageable dishes and also traveling the United States looking for quality meals at bargain prices. I found her naturally friendly TV persona translates to real life as well upon meeting her at a store signing and on my visit to her 30 Minute Meals set in New York City. Rachael kindly spoke with The Career Cookbook about how her shows originated, keys to success, favorite foods that mom makes, and what her upcoming talk show and recently released magazine Everyday with Rachael Ray will try to accomplish.
CCB: When did you realize you wanted to work with food? Did it just come naturally based on your family’s background and their appreciation for it?
RR: I grew up around food and it is such a feel-good thing to share with people. I think food chose me, rather than the other way around. I got addicted to how good sharing feels.
CCB: What’s the appeal of working in TV?
RR: I do not know. I don't watch myself on it. I just go to work like anyone else. Some days I cook, other days I report on my travels, and some days I write all day. I only think of TV when I turn it on to watch Larry David or CNN. Objectively, if you like to talk as much as you enjoy any thing else you do, TV is an option. Cooking on TV for myself is physically less grueling, for sure, than restaurant or market work. Plus, I get to story tell while I work. Fun.
CCB: Do you have a typical day on the job? Is there a routine you follow?
RR: Everyday is very different from the next. One day I am chatting up a celeb, the next I am teaching a crowd of kids, the next I am taping four shows a day, and some days I am just writing away on the laptop, finishing up another book.
CCB: As far as cooking, did you learn different things from watching your mom and working in restaurants?
RR: I have been around food in and out of restaurants all my life. In the restaurants I learned to work fast and efficiently because you simply must.
CCB: How did you figure out how things work on TV? Was this trial by fire?
RR: Yup. I really sucked when I started. My movements were stiff. But, what has remained the same is my candor. I am honest and I tell it like it is. I am never afraid to really talk to an audience.
CCB: What is your TV shooting schedule like? With four TV programs airing at the same time, are you constantly filming? Do you ever get any time off?
RR: I take off two to three days a month each month. Then a couple of times a year I try and take a week or so vacation. Otherwise, I work 24/7.
CCB: What does the Rachael Ray brand stand for?
RR: Quality and value. I back very few things: a pot I designed on a napkin that I use every night and on my show, my knives -- hand forged and with a non-slip grip and an easy sharpening system, and EVOO -- my own import label of affordable olive oil.
CCB: How do you stay organized with so many projects going on at the same time?
RR: I am a complete mess! Basically, I have no assistant, yet. I write everything down in my little orange notebook with pens I steal from strangers. The notebook is held together with a rubber band.
CCB: Was growing up in Cape Cod where you became a Red Sox fan?
RR: I became a Red Sox fan as an adult because of my deep affection for underdogs. Now, I can say I have a thing for WINNERS! I was on the road last year when WE WON and made sports history to do it. I jumped on the bed so hard I knocked out a ceiling tile.
CCB: Can you give a quick overview of how the following shows developed and where the ideas came from?
RR: 30 Minute Meals began as a cooking class in a market I was working at as the cook and buyer. I could not sell groceries because the customers said they didn't know how to cook and they had no time to learn, so I taught on 30 Minute Meals. The class turned into a segment on local news and that turned into books and those turned into national exposure for a simple idea. The 40 Dollars/Tasty Travels value travel shows are based on a series of segments I also ran on local news in which I would travel less than one hundred miles and spend less than one hundred dollars to enjoy some R&R. The Network saw these segments and asked if I would be able to shoot a show they were working on about budget food/travel and $40 became that show. Inside Dish -- Celebs with food are more relaxed just like the rest of us after we've been fed! This idea came from Brooke Johnson, our President at TVFN (Food Network).
CCB: What makes a great 30 Minute Meal recipe? Have you had any that just didn’t work?
RR: Anything you can cook in thirty or less that makes YOU happy is a great 30 Minute Meal. I have not had a meal not make time, unless I'm drinking and listening to Foo Fighters, then it takes forty to fifty minutes. Once you start cooking you learn that chicken breasts take six minutes on each side, period. So you've got eighteen other minutes with which to make the sides or sauces to go along with it. Burgers always cook in ten to twelve minutes and cutlets are two to three minutes per side, same with lamb chops. Fish is always quick-cooking, too. Once you get the hang of it, your recipe choices are endless!
CCB: What can we expect from your talk show? Will you be following a certain pre-established format or are you doing your own thing?
RR: The talk show will not follow any old formats. We're making up one of our own! We will continue to be all about accessible, can-do programming. There will be NO CRYING allowed, at least no sad tears. We will not take ourselves too seriously and we will have a LOT of laughs!
CCB: Will you continue to work on your other programs once the talk show begins?
RR: Yes, 30 Minute Meals and Tasty Travels will both continue.
CCB: What is the goal of your “cooking friendly” magazine, Everyday with Rachael Ray? Is it to show people that cooking can be easy, healthy, and fun?
RR: Yup. Well said. This is the point with the travel and celebs too- that life is easy, fun and can be even better, every day, in simple ways, even if you are not rich or famous.
CCB: What would be the perfect dining experience for you (including food, ambiance, company, location, etc.)?
RR: I would share some greens and beans with my grandfather, Emmanuel. He passed away more than twenty years ago and I have missed him ever since.
CCB: On $40 A Day do you ever have a bad meal? If so, does the tape stop rolling?
RR: No, but rather than describe the food I describe the setting or how generous the drinks are. If I am not talking about how good something is, it's for a good reason!
CCB: Is there a favorite meal that your mom makes for you? Does she also cook 30 Minute Meals?
RR: Mom cooks fast and slow and she bakes, too. I love anything she makes. Some favorites are her baked fish, this potato and zucchini dish with tomato, any soup, smashed cauliflower, baked pastas, beef and Barolo wine, chicken and dumplings, etc.
CCB: Do you enjoy the traveling you do for work? Do you plan to do any international travel in the future on any of your programs?
RR: I love to travel, for work it does get really tiring though. We shoot twelve hours a day and move cities every other day. This year's shows for Tasty Travels are all domestic. I have too much other work going on to allow for the extra time and effort it takes to work abroad. Maybe next year... Personally, I travel abroad at least twice a year.
CCB: Do you have any advice for people interested in becoming better at cooking?
RR: Cook for yourself at least two nights a week and set yourself up for success by choosing menus that you can easily envision yourself making, step by step.
CCB: Any suggestions for people who want to work in TV?
RR: Focus on and think more about what you have to share that is unique and how you want to state it, rather than how to get on TV.
CCB: Do you have any keys to being successful in both mediums?
RR: In any job, in all of your life: 1. Work hard. 2. Do not try to be all things to all people, find one thing that feels true to you and stick to it. Never try to be something or someone that you're not. 3. Laugh, a lot. 4. Never stop learning or listening. Only punks "know it all"!
CCB: What’s the most difficult part of your job?
RR: Nothing in my life is difficult, compared to digging ditches. All things are relative and I've got it pretty good, indeed. I am really lucky.
CCB: What has been the coolest thing about your career so far?
RR: Everything about my job and its process is cool, really cool.
CCB: What do you think people would be surprised to learn about your job?
RR: My job is my life, the lines blur totally. I really do make 30 Minute Meals when I get home, too!
CCB: What surprises you the most about your job?
RR: The thing that surprises me most? That I can really do all this work and have it feel, well, not so bad. In fact, it's all fun and really do-able, at least for now.
Here are some Rachael Ray links:
For her magazine:rachaelraymag.com
For her TV schedule:foodnetwork.com