On February 9, after six years of bashing Rachael Ray, the web site rrsux.com shut down and its owner put the domain name up for sale. It’s the end of an era for fanatics who came out in droves to voice their annoyance and displeasure with the ubiquitous host of 30 Minute Meals on The Food Network and her growing conglomerate of food-related enterprises.
Perhaps no other cooking personality has been more universally dissed than Rachael Ray, who burst onto the national scene after being discovered while doing cooking
demonstrations at an Albany, New York food store. The rest, as they say, is history.
Ray joined the Food Network in 2001, and gradually increased her presence in their operation, with no less than five different series and a myriad of other business and promotional ventures that capitalized on her popularity. She has her fingers in lots of different pies, so to speak, but she’s best known for 30 Minute Meals, where her philosophy is that anyone can put together a healthy, nutritious meal in 30 minutes or less. Her recipes are simple, but critics claim that her concept does not fully account for preparation times and many featured meals are impossible to complete within half an hour. Not everyone can whiz around the kitchen at supersonic speed like Ray.
Although she expresses a preference for fresh ingredients, many of her meals contain shortcuts that come in the form of canned vegetables and boxed conveniences foods. She relies too much on packaged and processed foods, so the “healthy”factor becomes less so, with the high amounts of sodium, fats and sugars over which you have no control. This really isn’t cooking from scratch.
Rachael Ray is the darling of The Food Network and its philosophy of programming to the lowest common denominator. She comes across to many as the bubbly, yet ditzy girl next door. Unfortunately, the girl next door didn’t know how to cook, and according to critics, neither does Ray. This energetic dynamo is the first to admit that she has no culinary training and readily agrees that she’s not a chef. “I have no formal anything,” she said in a New York Times interview. “I’m completely unqualified for any job I’ve ever had.”
The problem with 30 Minute Meals and most every other show on The Food Network is their total lack of concern with nutritional information and calorie count. Take one of Ray’s favorite ingredients: pasta. Although she usually chooses a whole grain variety, she loads up her recipes with unmeasured handfuls of cheese and then shovels enough pasta on a plate to feed an army. There is no such thing as portion control on any of her shows. Ray believes that measuring “takes away from the creative, hands-on process of cooking” and instead favors approximations such as “half a palmful.”
Although Ray’s image has been influenced and finessed by The Food Network, this independent woman has a mind of her own. Tact is not her strong suit and she doesn’t much care what people think about her. If something comes her way, she’s going to seize the moment. Like when FHM [For Him Magazine] contacted Ray in 2003 and asked if she would pose for some pictures. “When FHM called, I thought it was Food and Home Magazine,”Ray said, in an interview with the Huffington Post. “I didn’t even know what FHM was.” The New York Times reported, “The shots feature Ms. Ray in short-shorts with an exposed midriff, licking chocolate off a big wooden spoon, eating a strawberry and sitting in a sink, laughing as suds cascade down her thighs.” In a televised interview with Cynthia McFadden on Nightline earlier this month, Ray reiterated that her mother was “furious,”about the photo shoot, but that she was “proud”and would do it again and not change a thing.
At age 40, Rachel Ray heads up a multi-million dollar food empire that includes her commitments to the Food Network and a myriad of other projects. She has authored an extensive collection of cookbooks and developed a line of cookware. She hosts a daily, syndicated TV talk show, The Rachel Ray Show (www.rachaelray.com), publishes a magazine, Every Day with Rachael Ray and just introduced a line of pet food, Nutrish . She also heads up a non-profit organization, Yum-o , which encourages kids and their parents to develop healthy relationships with food and cooking. Plus, she has her endorsements. That’s quite a number of accomplishments for someone who’s just hitting her stride. Oh, and did we mention that she’s raking in $18 million a year?
No matter where you turn, Rachael Ray seems to be in your face. She may have her faults but she is also to be admired for her ambition, guts and spirit. The question remains as to whether her freewheeling approach and near disregard for brand building can sustain her projects for the long term. Or perhaps the bigger issue is whether she can keep up with the life she has fashioned. Did the Food Network just create its first monster?