We know, we know. But put aside any feelings you have about Rachael-isms like “stoup” and “EVOO” and hear us out! We realize that the common wisdom when it comes to the ever-perky superstar is not always kind. But we actually like her! Even if we don’t find ourselves among the audience to which she commonly appeals, we can’t argue with the fact that there are few people as responsible for America’s increased interest and enthusiasm for cooking and food than she is. Her enormous fan base and media omnipresence speak volumes for her appeal. In other words, people love her. So we got her on the horn for an interview, which was temporarily interrupted by a helicopter ride with Mayor Bloomberg (we’ll let you guess which one of us was in the helicopter), and to see what she had to say about her boundless fame. Read on!
For people who are new to cooking, do you see yourself as an entry point to the food world?
My food is designed to be accessible to everybody. I’m always trying to improve my own self in the kitchen and improve upon my recipes. There are recipes in this book [Look + Cook] that you wouldn’t have seen in my work ten or fifteen years ago, but I always try to keep the food accessible because whether you love to cook, or it’s your first time in the kitchen, food should be, to me, about sharing. It should not be intimidating. People should be inspired to make dinner as many nights of the week as possible because I believe it’s very important for your soul. It really adds to your quality of life to be able to provide good food for yourself and your loved ones …. When I make dinner at home, I’m very quiet and it’s time for me to organize my brain and relax and rewind on the day, have a glass of wine or listen to music and chat with my husband.
I find a sense of comfort in cooking, too. I love spending a Saturday walking around and picking up stuff at the cheese shop, the bakery, the Greenmarket and coming home and cooking meals for the week.
I actually picked my apartment in proximity to the nearest and biggest Greenmarket. [Union Square.]
You’re in the middle of a book tour and it sounds like the crowds have been huge. What’s the experience been like?
I like going on a book tour because you get so much feedback. It’s like the reason I enjoy doing QVC — you can talk to your customer. I’ve always considered myself to be a service-industry professional. In a way, I’m still very much a waitress. I want to give people what they want and what they relate to, so a book tour helps me decide what content should go in the next book or on the show. When you go out on tour people tell you their favorite recipes and what works best for them and they share their recipes with you. I love going on a book tour because it reminds me that the base of our show is so diverse. You see firehouse guys come out together, you see newlyweds, you see people of every generation. The most special one for me is when the cancer survivors come out and say, “Food programming helps make me hungry, and you have to eat to battle the disease.” I’ve had this discussion before with other chefs and it means so much to them to be a part of making people feel hungry again.
You mentioned that firefighters have attended your signings. People might be surprised to learn you have a large male fan base.
I was just noticing in this morning’s show that about a third of the audience were guys and a lot of them were firemen. And we get cops, too! A lot of men cook. Every man in my family cooks. With the popularity of food programming and so many casual, super-fun chefs out there like Michael Symon and Bobby Flay with Throwdown, it’s not that unusual for me to see guys in the audience any more.
A lot of really smart guys get in line [at book signings] for hours and hours for their mom or girlfriend or their wife. It’s really great when you see young kids, like 10 or 12 years old, who want to be chefs and they’re standing in line and they come with their own recipes and want you to sign their knives.
They want you to sign their knives?
Yeah, over the years I’ve signed dishes, pots, pans — a bra. I’ve signed a lot of things.
I have to get on a helicopter and go to this thing with the Mayor and then I’ll be free again in about an hour and a half, so we can finish then?
[Two hours later … ]
How was your helicopter ride with the Mayor?
It was absolutely spectacular. It was very windy and he’s an excellent pilot. [She clarified that it was Mayor Bloomberg’s helicopter, but he did not actually fly it.]
What were you doing?
I was speaking at a women’s luncheon honoring five outstanding volunteers in Staten Island.
A helicopter certainly beats taking the ferry.
Yeah, it’s amazing to be in a helicopter and pass the Statue of Liberty and see the New York skyline. It was a goose bump moment.
Let’s talk about your new book. Look + Cook is your eighteenth cookbook. Have you ever gotten “recipe block?” Like, do you ever look at an ingredient like a chicken and think, How in the world am I going to make something new with this?
I keep a notebook with me throughout the day and I have several little tricks to help me come up with new ideas. First of all, I’m a voracious food reader. I buy and subscribe to food magazines from all over the world, even in languages I don’t speak. I’m always looking at stuff and trying to figure out how to simplify it or adapt it to more of an everyday lifestyle, or make it a little faster or quicker. I have categories that I’ve developed in my brain that I write within my head: Make Your Own Takeout, Fancy Steakhouse, Burgers, Comfort Foods. I go through my head and think, I haven’t done a burger in a while, let’s do this.
I write every day, then I code it for different shows: “DS” for Daytime Show, “WID” for Week in a Day, “30 MM” for 30 Minutes Meals, or “EDWRR” for the magazine [Every Day With Rachael Ray]. Then I sit down and force myself to type all that mess out twice a week. I prolong that as long as I can because I am a terrible typist.
With Thanksgiving around the corner, do you get put in charge of the menu at your house because you’re an accomplished cook?
No, we’ve always made the same meal: apple, celery, and onion stuffing, two small turkeys so everybody can sleep a little later and so you can carve one entirely and put the other one on the table as sort of your centerpiece until you need it, plus you get double the legs and wings. Then I make Brussels sprouts with pancetta and balsamic drizzle. We make peas and caramelized onions, mashed root vegetable mixed in with the potato, and an orange-scented sweet potato or a roasted butternut squash. My sister does the baking if she comes to our house. Otherwise, I like extra-spicy Mrs. Smith’s Pumpkin Pie.
Can you share a few turkey-roasting tips for those cooking the big bird for the first time?
I never advocate roasting up a big bird. I’m a two-bird person. It’s much easier to handle. I’m not a person who puts the stuffing inside. I’m a stuffing-on-the-side person because I like as much crunch factor as possible. When you’re carving the bird, remove the entire breast first and then do thick cuts across the bird, not thin slices. And always, always, always, the miracle on Thanksgiving Day, it brings all food back to life: dry turkey, loosens up tight mashed potatoes, stretches the gravy — have lots of stock-in-a-box on hand. If the bird comes out a little dry, just fill a sauté pan with a thin layer of chicken stock and pass the sliced bird through the stock before you platter it.