Celebrity chef and talk show host Rachael Ray instructs Natalie DiStefano of Ballston Spa how to prepare Chicken Cordon Bleu during her annual benefit show at Lake George High School, Ray’s alma mater. Held Thursday April 12 in the school auditorium, it was the first time in the show’s history that an audience member was invited onstage to help concoct an entree.
Peppering her presentation with insights into her celebrity life and remarks about her love for her Lake George upbringing, megastar chef and television talk show host Rachael Ray charmed her audience Thursday April 12 at Lake George High School.
The event was Rachael Ray’s 10th annual show for her alma mater, to raise money on behalf of the school alumni association for scholarships as well as computers, equipment and other school enhancements.
Before the show, she told Adirondack Journal reporter Katherine Clark how she was surprised that year after year, the demand for tickets for her Lake George appearances remained strong — that people would actually pay to see her in person again and again.
She also talked of her appreciation for her hometown in Lake George and beauty of the lower Adirondacks — and how it kept bringing her back to her hideaway vacation home in Lake Luzerne — more than ever in recent years.
Her Luzerne home provided a welcome respite, she said, from the grind of taping more than 1,000 television episodes per year for the five shows she hosts, either daily or weekly, she said.
“The more I travel and the older I get — like the Wizard of Oz says — ‘There’s no place like home.’”
Hometown Rachael Ray fans Kari Badger of Fort Edward and Kathy Akler of Queensbury, who had center-section second-row seats, said they've been fans of Rachael Ray since she appeared on Albany television WRGB-6’s “30-minute meals” segments and in local Price Chopper commercials.
The two laughed about how in one early show, she set off the studio’s smoke alarm and created havoc.
“She’s come a long way since,” Badger quipped.
While Badger and Akler were veteran fans attending the Lake George show, newlywed Rita Dejnozka of Saratoga County was seeing Rachael Ray in person for the first time. She said that Rachael Ray might as well be her secret accomplice in her kitchen.
“I like how she uses everyday ingredients that I’d actually have in my fridge or cabinets,” she said. “Her cookbooks have very simple meals that really impress my husband — but he doesn’t have any idea how easy they really are.”
April Whetstone of Ballston Spa brought her daughter Shalyn, 9, to see the perky, durable star in person.
Whetstone said Shalyn enjoys cooking often, playing the role of Rachael Ray in the kitchen while she prepares food, as if she has a studio audience before her. Her favorite dish, she said, was Rachael's Mini-Meat Loaf, baked up in a muffin pan.
“I like how Rachael pours ingredients, like me, in her hands and tosses it into the dish,” she said. “It’s measuring with love, as my mother used to say.”
Besides Shalyn, there were dozens of other young fans in the audience. One of them was Sydney Eggleston, 10, who traveled from Maine to see her. She had drawn up a sign calling attention to her long-distance trek, but the long-distance fan award was presented to someone from Ohio.
“She’s my most famous cooker,” Sydney said, swooning after she was recognized by the celebrity chef.
For the first time ever in the Lake George benefit show, Rachael invited a child onstage to help prepare a recipe.
Natalie DiStefano, 10, of Ballston Spa was the lucky child chosen to be Rachael Ray’s sidekick.
Following Ray’s instruction, the girl pounded a chicken breast with a mallet with abandon, and sprinkled it with seasonings to make a version of Chicken Cordon Bleu.
Afterward, the girl was nearly speechless about her work beside Ray in front of the crowd.
“It was really amazing,” Natalie said. “She’s like — my idol.”
The show ended with a lot of check-passing as well as the megastar receiving bouquets and gifts.
While Ray had raised about $20,000 for the school, Lake George Alumni Association President Tom Roach presented her with a donation to Ray’s renowned charity, Yum-O, which has been recently fighting childhood obesity and advocating good nutrition.
Roach also presented Rachael Ray with a $200 gift certificate to Oscar’s Smoke House of Warrensburg — and Ray squealed with delight.
“There’s nothing I don’t like at Oscar’s,” she said. “I’m going there tomorrow.”
Ray said that on her television shows and at home, she cooks with Oscar’s bacon exclusively. Other favorites of hers, are Oscar’s Triple-X super-sharp Cheddar cheese, their smoked boneless leg of lamb, smoked chicken breast and every variety of jerky that the renowned enterprise produces.
Oscar’s wasn’t the only local business Rachael Ray praised. She also lauded the Lake George Baking Company, that not only bakes rolls for the annual show, but this year created a huge 10-tiered-cake thanking her for her decade of hosting the local benefit. The cake’s giant inscription read, “Ten Years Our Star, Rachael Ray.”
Watching Ray react with joy during the cake presentation, the international star’s mother Elsa Ray commented on how Rachael as a teen worked long hours on weekends and in summers alongside family members in various restaurants in the Lake George region. Ray talked earlier about how these long work-weeks in the 1980s prepared her well for her television work.
Offering advice to Lake Geroge students, she told them to delve into their career with passion.
“Work harder than the next person, and don’t complain about it,” she said. “Then you’ll always get noticed, no matter what job you’re doing — and you’ll find an opportunity that you didn’t see coming.”
As a teenager, Rachael Ray had shown such dedication, family members recalled, whether it was helping in a restaurant kitchen, bussing tables, or polishing silverware after patrons left.
“Anything we taught her, she took it and ran with it,” Elsa Ray said. “And she’s still running!”