Celebrity cook and talk show host Rachael Ray (right) answers questions posed by Adirondack Journal columnist Kathy Templeton ()left) just prior to her annual show at Lake George High School, Rachael's alma mater.
Arriving at Lake George High School I was greeted by Rachael Ray’s fellow alumni and escorted to the school library for a scheduled interview with the globally famous television personality. As the clock ticked and my time arrived, my hand began to shake with nerves; I quieted them and introduced myself to her.
Kathy Templeton - You launched your non-profit “Yum-O” in 2006. How has it grown in the past eight years and where do you see it going in the next eight?
Rachael Ray – Well, President Clinton was there on the day we launched it and we partnered with the Alliance for a Healthy Generation. They have been great partners since day one. We spend one third of our money on Michelle Obama’s Lets Move Campaign, which is intended to fight childhood obesity. We spend one-third of our money on scholarship programs that we place – when I went to high school BOCES and VOTEC, were programs where you could graduate high school and get a job. That doesn’t exist largely in public schools, anymore. So, we spend a third of our money on a public school program of scholarships to send anyone who wants to go into any type of food-related secondary education scholarships. We spend one third of our money on hunger relief – to the next-door neighbor, unfortunately, obesity may actually represent hunger – Ironic, but true. So, all of our products, everything I make from knives to pots, pans, books, all have a “Yum-O” symbol on them, and if you buy those products all of that money does not go to me, it goes directly to children in need.
Rachael giggled when I asked my next question: Many parents struggle to get their children to choose to eat nutritious foods – I am one of them – where should they start and what is the easiest “sneaky” food to add to children’s dishes?
RR – You can do what Jerry Seinfeld’s wife has so brilliantly done in many cookbooks. You can puree anything and add it to anything, if you’re making macaroni and cheese you can add carrots or pureed butternut squash or a plethora of vegetables and just mix it in. Every time you make macaroni and cheese, you can just choose to use whole wheat or whole grain pasta – you get more protein, you get more fiber. You can put anything inside a quesadilla, a grilled cheese sandwich or baked pasta, and children will eat it, because the only way they can get the thing that they want is through that vessel – so, there you go. When the kids get “contaminated”, that’s what I call it, when kids start at home, their mom or dad, or both, can give them great food background and develop their palate, then they go to school and other kids say “icky.” When my niece stated saying “icky” and “What’s that green stuff?” – just make them laugh. I used to say, it’s dinosaur bugars and she would giggle and she would eat it. She didn’t care if it was parsley, tarragon or basil; as long as it was dinosaur bugars she’d eat it. So, you can lie, cheat or make a joke. Those are my tips. Also be mindful, I have a dog, not a human, so I’m not the authority.
KT: I have listened to many interviews with prominent chefs talking about their viewpoints on preparing and presenting food. How do you feel food should be?
RR – I think food should be like everything else; don’t take yourself too seriously, take your work very seriously, never complain when you put in a good long day – and that’s that, food is about sharing and caring, about other human beings. It shouldn’t be about how perfect your plate is, or how perfectly prepared it is. It should be about whether or not you made it with love and with thought. That should be true whether you are preparing it for yourself or for people you care about. In life in general, don’t take yourself too seriously or you’re gonna get brokenheartened pretty quick – Have a sense of humor.
KT: Could you give me a personal moment when you were cooking that everything fell into place and you knew you were onto something?
RR – No, I can’t. There is no perfect place in cooking. Everything can always go wrong – I’m not allowed to make coffee in my house, because my coffee sucks. I set bread on fire, and I go back to – never take yourself too seriously. I don’t think anyone should take cooking too seriously, or they’re not going to want to cook, period.
KT: Just one more question. When I travel and then come back, I know that once I reach Thurman, I’m home. What landmark says home to you?
RR – When I go from Northway Exit 19 to 20, and I come over the crest by what used to be Storytown and I start to see the Adirondack Mountains. I’m an Adirondack girl and when I come over 19 to 20, I know I’m home.
I believe that Rachael loves Lake George, the place she calls home. When a member of the audience told Rachael their story of seeing her husband at a local store and her pursuit to track her down at Oscar’s Smoke House in Warrensburg, Rachael ran out into the audience to hug the woman.
Rachael is a passionate person with deep ties to our community. Fame hasn’t gone to her head, actually the opposite has occurred – she is bringing it back to where she grew up.