Monday, November 5, 2007
To make ends meet, I moonlight as a beauty writer for a British perfumery. While in the office one day for a meeting, one of the art directors noticed a copy of Rachael Ray’s Everyday in my bag.
"What!" She cried. "Whose magazine is that?!?!" with a look of horror on her face.
Now, granted, this young woman is thirty, single and more prone to standing at a bar downing shots than over a hot stove. Still, I had a moment of hesitation and embarrassment. Because I live in Manhattan I delude myself that I am somehow immune to the truth of my life: I rarely leave my apartment save to pick up the kids from preschool in the East Village, grocery shop or go to Pilates. This hot young thing led me to once again face reality: I am not the hipster I was ten years ago.
Clearly, Sydney, age four, Sebastien, who is two and a half, and I are the only ones of our social set who admittedly love the queen of cute, Rachael Ray. But I must stand by my woman––I love her recipes—they are fast, flavorful and healthy. When you cook seven nights a week and eat lunch and breakfast at home almost everyday, you need ideas to get you by. Compared to the almost pornographic Giada and the somewhat dunderheaded Emeril and the rotund Mario, Ray is a calm, solid force. Yes, I know she has dumb sayings (EVOO anyone?), but I can forgive her these. Alton Brown is equally quirky—and also helpful—but no one goes on and on about how annoying he is. Plus it is the ONLY show my kids will watch with me and her recipes always delight everyone in the family. The funny thing is, I cook her dishes for my refined food-and-travel-world friends (the very ones who look at me with sympathy when I mention I love her: “the poor girl has gone not only domestic but dumb as well”) and they LOVE the meals I make.
The other thing is, as a graduate of the prestigious Food Studies program at NYU, I should know better. Our graduate program used cultural studies texts like Consuming Geographies by Bell and Valentine and French theorist Jean Baudrillard, not to mention Mark Kurlansky’s Cod and Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser. Even in the food and pop culture class, Ray was never discussed. She was indeed almost unmentionable.
Paradoxically, it is because I studied food from a sociological, historical and cultural perspective, enough to make me a certified foodie, that I can embrace the appeal of Ray, who manages to marry the joys of the culinary without the pretentiousness of high-end of food culture. Ultimately, what you discover when you look at the worlds around refined food, is that what you eat tells stories about who you are. In New York, where, how and what we eat helps defines our status. People mention restaurant openings and reservation lists like some might mention a Hermes bag.
How does a recipe from Thomas Keller define a person differently than one from Ray? The Keller recipe takes two days, expensive ingredients and may or may not have been properly tested. Not so Ray’s recipe. She thinks about real working women’s lives and how to make them easier so that they can enjoy food.
But maybe the truth is: I just like her, in all her silliness and what-not, the woman hits something in me that feels wholesome and bright and good. Now this might make me dumb, delusional, and square, but at least I am well-fed.
Slate defends Ray.
Posted by Sydney Railla-Duncombe at 3:35 PM