By Sue Botos
It’s easy to tell when Rachael Ray is in the house.
When introducing the celebrity chef, author and TV host, Mayor Pam Bobst noted the audience at Rocky River High School’s auditorium, where Ray was about to speak, seemed quiet.
“This may be Sunday, but this isn’t church!” yelled the effervescent Ray from the side of the stage, effectively loosening up the crowd of about 400 who had come to hear Ray elaborate on her many ventures plus her newest cookbook, “Week in a Day,” which guides home cooks through the process of creating a week’s worth of meals in one day.
Attendees received a ticket to the Jan. 19 event, sponsored by Joseph-Beth Booksellers and the Rocky River Public Library, with the purchase of the book.
Bobst presented Ray with a swag basket filled with gifts from local businesses, including a selection of Ray’s favorite ingredient, olive oil (from the Olive Scene) and a T-shirt emblazoned with RR (for both Rocky River and Rachael Ray).
After receiving the “whisk to the city,” in lieu of a key, Ray sat down with moderator Michael Link of Joseph-Beth, who thanked Ray for rescheduling her visit, originally slated for December, but postponed due to weather. “It’s rare when an author cancels and then reschedules,” he stated.
Ray stated that her seemingly endless energy and projects keep her centered. “I feel very uncomfortable with attention, and this is a way to keep me even,” she said. She added that her strong work ethic comes from her mother, who managed restaurants, often bringing the young Rachael into the kitchen. Ray recalled once reaching up for a spatula on a hot griddle and burning her thumb.
“I’m like the Harry Potter of food. I was kind of branded,” she quipped.
After growing up spending most holidays in the kitchen, Ray said she has come to appreciate service organizations, and has started several of her own. An animal lover and owner of a 65-pound pit bull, Ray created a natural petfood line, Nutrish, and has recently added cat food. She said proceeds will go to a cage-free rescue facility for felines. In addition, her Yum-o Foundation, launched in 2006, is a nonprofit organization that encourages kids to develop healthy relationships with food and funds cooking education and scholarships. Ray added that a portion of the sales from her name-brand cookware also supports charities. She said more than $6 million was raised last year for various causes.
“Make giving a part of daily life,” Ray urged, adding that this promotes a constant stream of revenue for causes, as opposed to one-time fundraisers. “It’s the motivator that gets you out of bed in the morning,” she stated.
Writing each day is also important to Ray and her lawyer-musician husband, John. “I daydream in recipes. I always carry a pen and paper with me,” Ray said, noting her ideas come everywhere from her daily conversations to her worldwide travels.
But even when she travels, Ray is never far from a kitchen. “My life is built around the kitchen. That’s where I’ve always felt the happiest,” she said, adding that she doesn’t cook for herself, but for those she is feeding. That list could include any number of her celebrity chef friends, including Cleveland’s own Michael Symon, whom Ray described as “sweet and generous.”
She added, “People who work in food are never hungry, so they’re not crabby.”
Despite her demanding schedule, Ray admitted to being a “movie freak.”
“My husband and I need only four hours of sleep. Even if we eat at 10 (p.m.), it’s important that we cook, then we’ll watch a movie until midnight. We get up at 5 a.m. and I talk for 12 to 14 hours a day. That’s why I sound like I do,” she said of her trademark raspy voice.
Ray fielded several questions from the audience, including some concerning fussy eaters, and shortcuts to meal preparation. She said giving children some “ownership” by letting them select food made them more interested in it. “Children won’t let themselves starve,” she commented.
Above all, Ray stressed that cooking is something anyone can do. “Don’t take yourself too seriously. If something doesn’t turn out like you want it, who cares? It will probably still taste good.”
As Ray hustled off to catch her plane, she promised to return in December when her next book, “Everybody’s Italian on Sunday,” will be available.