Monday, November 5, 2007

I Love Rachael Ray and I Feel Fine (sort of)

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.


  1. Jean - thanks so much for such a well-reasoned and thoughtful post about why you like Rachael Ray. I tend to have a hard time statig it clearly, but you did an excellent job. The woman writes great recipes for the home cook and for that I will always call myself one of her fans.

  2. Jean, I just accidented across your blog, thought I recognized your name from r/ga days and started reading to find out if it was the same Jean Railla. It was!

    The last time I talked to you was right around when you got engaged. I guess that is ancient history now. I no longer live in NY but miss it mightily and your posts give me a glimpse into what family life in NYC might be if we ever decide to return there from SF (and we do think about it.)

    At any rate, I just wanted to tell you how that I'm enjoying your blog. Keep up the great work! ~Lisa

  3. Hi, I came across your article on get crafty and found it very timely. My family and I are working our way through 365 Recipes: No Repeats by Rachael Ray and are blogging about the experience at
    Sometimes it's frustrating (we're on day 4 of a 5 day risotto run) but most of the time the food is definitely better than average and often very good. And it's pretty much all quick and easy and we never have the "what will we have for dinner?" question again- at least not until 2008. I couldn't understand the reaction of people in the RachaelRay Sucks community to what we are doing- or even how and why such a community exists...

  4. Giada has some really great recipes. They are also simple and delicious.

  5. Emeril stupid? Alton stupid? I won't respond to that.

    I like Rachael but I also like Emeril and Alton and many others including Martha. There's room for everybody.

  6. You are correct. I should not have dissed the other food network chefs. It was more for dramatic effect than heart-felt ill-will towards them. Alton Brown taught me how to make my own smoker out of a flower pot, so shame on me for speaking poorly of him.

    As for Giada, I do indeed like her recipes.

    I stand corrected!

  7. Hi, Jean! I just found your blog on a random Google search and thought I'd take a peak. I am also a not-so-closeted Rachael Ray fan, but I am a somewhat ambivalent fan because I'm a vegetarian and I try to eat very healthfully. I like Rachael's enthusiasm for cooking at home and enjoying food; her books are a good source of ideas for me, but I usually don't cook her recipes straight. I think it's totally fine to take what you like from Rachael's offerings and ignore the rest. But I will confess that EVOO is an awfully convenient abbreviation when I'm jotting recipes for myself!

    If you are curious, I just wrote a blog post about my feelings toward Rachael Ray:

  8. I *love* RR and proud of it! I've cooked for a huge family for years, and I was never able to find quick, healthy recipes from anyone else (that did not include dump a can of this) before I came across her show, books etc. Now I love this magazine. I love the grocery list too...what other mag. does that?! I use them and have never made a meal my fam. didn't like. I also like that her recipe's can be customized easily as she uses fresh ingredients, etc. I can't say enough!! I swear, I'm not related to her! lol! I find nothing wrong with lovin' her and her company for providing great information and meals to us.
    p.s. love your blog, will be back. got here from crafty chica link...:)

  9. I second that. She's cute and energetic and anyone that loves helping other people get excited about cooking is a culinary hero!