Nobody saw Rachael Ray’s world domination coming. The short, bubbly ball of energy has an empire of magazines, TV shows, and websites that perhaps only the mighty Oprah eclipses. Given Ray’s humble beginnings and seemingly grounded disposition, it’s easy to see why she’s become popular. But just when you think you know everything about her…
She was a high school cheerleader
Most people say they wouldn’t let fame change them. It seems Rachael Ray held to that idea. Rachael Ray was always the same person she is today; she can win people over with a smile and has that infectious go-getter attitude. So of course she was a cheerleader in high school, the one at the top of the pyramid tumbling into her teammates’ arms. Ray graduated from Lake George High School in upstate New York in 1986 and attended Pace University near New York City. She lasted only two years in college before dropping out and beginning her working life, finding work at a gourmet grocery store in the city.
Her raspy voice is from a childhood illness
Science says men love husky voices. (Demi Moore made her bones in the ’90s off her sex appeal and golden, scratchy pipes.) Another thing Ray has going for her is her naturally raspy voice. She suffered croup as a toddler, and the coughing fits did permanent damage to her throat. Croup is a viral infection in the voice box but rarely does damage like she experienced. It actually bugged her enough that in 2008 she underwent surgery after discovering a benign lump that contributed to the rasp. Her voice isn’t any less raspy after surgery — probably because she never really stopped talking to let it properly heal — and her trademark husk remains.
She started her first business in high school and never stopped
Rachael’s outgoing personality made her a natural saleswoman. She figured that out early on, so early that she actually started her first business while still in high school. Delicious Liaisons delivered catered baskets that she put together herself in the evening between homework assignments. Ray has consistently worked since that time, as a buyer for Macy’s and later back upstate in Albany at an upscale gourmet food store. It was in Albany that Ray found her niche; she did instructional cooking classes specializing in meals that could be done in a short amount of time, say, 30 minutes. She quickly became a hit, which led to spots on local Albany news and an appearance on the Today Show to show off her 30-minute meals. Then the Food Network got wind of it and quickly signed her to a contract.
A mugging launched her career
But the reality is that none of that would have happened — the gourmet grocery store in Albany, the 30-minute meal idea, the Today Show appearance — if it hadn’t been for her becoming another statistic. Rachael was doing pretty well for herself until she was violently mugged (twice) outside her Queens apartment. Good job be darned, she packed up her stuff and headed back home to live in a cabin not far from Albany. Most people go to New York to get discovered, but Rachael Ray did the opposite.
She isn’t a chef
Emeril Lagasse made the Food Network. It was his show Emeril Live that propelled Food Network into the national spotlight, creating buzzwords (Bam!) and teaching a new cable audience how to cook. But after his show’s cancellation in 2007, you could make the case that Alton Brown, Bobby Flay, or Rachael Ray each took the leadership mantle. Only one of them is a faker.
Rachael Ray is not a chef. She has no formal culinary training, and she stresses this as not to take away from classically trained chefs. Have you ever seen her cut an onion? She cuts like it like you or I cut an onion. She cooks like you or I do; she eyeballs measurements, she cuts things smaller so they’re easier to cook. None of that really matters unless you’re Anthony Bourdain. (And he hates everyone, so who cares?) But her success doesn’t have anything to do with whether she’s a chef. It’s her personality and the way she cooks like we do that makes her so likable.
She’s a bad tipper
Rachael’s 30 Minute Meals aside, the show that truly launched her into stardom was $40 a Day, where she traveled pretty much anywhere with the goal of only spending $40 on her meals that day. Think of it as being a tourist and keeping your budget intact. The locales and Ray’s natural television personality factored into the success, but there was something people noticed disturbing about the show, especially those in the server industry: Rachael Ray is a bad tipper.
Listings of celebrity bad tippers prominently feature Rachael as a cheapskate. That rating has to do specifically with $40 a Day, where she often kept under budget by tipping less than the industry standard 15-18 percent. On the program, she often left 10 percent and once said that a 7 percent tip is perfectly fine. All the cutesy catchphrases like “yum-o” or “delish” will only get you so far when you’re stiffing the waitstaff.
There are some things she can’t cook
Ray might appreciate the simple things in life, but that doesn’t mean she knows how to make them. The cooking guru has admitted that there are some basic food staples she simply can’t prepare. She told Mediaite that when she brews coffee “it looks like mud or pee” and that she has been known to set bread on fire when trying to toast it. Yikes!
Her enterprise is a family affair
Rachael Ray is half Italian (from her mother) and half Cajun (from her father, Jim Ray). Rachael has two siblings: an older half-sister, Maria Betar, and a younger brother, Manny (named for his grandfather Emmanuel). Her sister writes recipes for the Rachael Ray website. Manny isn’t exactly working in the Ray conglomerate, but he gets food named for him, like a sweet little chili dish.
Their mom, Elsa Scuderi, may be the best known family member, given how much Rachael talks about her. She was the oldest of 10 children and passed on her work ethic to Rachael. Rachael’s grandfather lived with the Rays when Rachael was young and was a huge influence on her. Rachael still has fond memories of her grandfather and mentions him often; she credits him with her love of food and maybe her first spoken word: “vino,” Italian for wine. He used to put a little wine diluted with water in her baby bottle when she got fussy.
Her parents were in the restaurant biz
So how did she learn to cook? She came about it honestly, by growing up in her parents’ restaurants. Although born in upstate New York, she lived for a time in Cape Cod until second grade. Her parents ran The Carvery in multiple locations, including Falmouth. Rather than hire a sitter for her kids, mamma Elsa took her kids with her to work. After selling the restaurants, the family moved back to upstate New York, and then Elsa and Jim divorced. Her mom stayed in the restaurant biz and ran nine restaurants in the area, and Rachael was right there with her. Rachael said she and her siblings “did every crap job there was — dishwasher, busgirl.” It was that experience, plus watching her mom cook at home, that led her to where she is today.
Her FHM layout
If there’s any controversy about Rachael Ray (real controversy, not people hating her because she’s so bubbly) it’s about a photo shoot she once did. When Rachael Ray’s stock was just starting to take off in 2003, a men’s magazine approached her about doing a photo layout. FHM‘s Rachael Ray photo layout certainly put some spice in her portfolio, licking a spoon, provocatively holding a pie. Years later, Ray had no regrets. “I think I was 35 at the time. … And I thought, ‘If I’m gutsy enough to do this, this is a good thing for everybody.'” She also said she thought FHM stood for Food and Home Magazine, not For Him Magazine. Let’s hope she was kidding.
Her aunt’s tragic death
Just after Thanksgiving 2013, Rachael’s mom, Elsa, wasn’t home. Elsa went through her usual routine; she had her sister, 77-year-old Geraldine Scuderi, watch her house. She paid her sister $300 for house-sitting but hadn’t given her a key. On a chilly evening Geraldine went outside to feed some birds and accidentally locked herself out. She desperately tried to re-enter the house, but a keypad entry for the garage was disabled and she wasn’t strong enough to break a window with a rock. Her attempts were captured on home security cameras, but it was all useless. Geraldine, who already suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, collapsed in the driveway. Her official cause of death was a heart attack.
Geraldine’s daughter Gina blamed the Ray family for the death, saying they “neglected her.” Rachael did not attend her aunt’s funeral, which also didn’t sit well with her cousin. Rachael’s brother, Manny, defended her in the media, explaining that once the autopsy report revealed the cause of death it provided some closure. Still some uneasy feelings remained with Rachael missing the funeral, but Manny explained that she was recording her show and unable to attend.
She was kicked out of the Girl Scouts
She might seem like a good girl, but Ray admits that as a kid she was kicked out of the Girl Scouts. When asked what she did to get the boot, she answered, “I had three demerits: I made up dirty lyrics to a Girl Scouts song; I didn’t wear my full uniform, just the hat and sash; and worst of all, a girl broke her arm (’nuff said). That was it for me!”
She got the chance to redeem herself in 2007 when she invited a Girl Scout troop onto her show and helped the kids earn their cooking badge.
Her dog food company was sued
Rachael Ray’s love of dogs is well documented — she and her pit bull, Isaboo, even got a profile in Modern Dog magazine. It was a logical step when she branched out into her own line of dog food, but in March 2017, her Nutrish dog food was the target of a lawsuit claiming the brand’s labels misrepresent what’s inside.
According to Top Class Actions, the suit claimed statements like “No artificial flavors or artificial preservatives” are misleading, because the food allegedly does contain things like caramel coloring and “unnatural” ingredients. The charges go back to 2010, and the accusations were met with a response from Ray’s camp saying it should be dismissed, as all labeling was done to comply with legal guidelines.
Her Dunkin’ Donuts commercials were hugely controversial
Not everything Ray has done has met with success, and when she talked to ABC News in 2009, they asked her about her ill-fated Dunkin’ Donuts commercials. People didn’t just take issue with them, they had a major problem with them for several reasons. Some — including Anthony Bourdain — condemned her for promoting what they viewed as an unhealthy lifestyle choice to kids. She responded by saying she not only respected Dunkin’ Donuts for removing trans fat from their products, but that she saw nothing wrong with enjoy things like a donut in moderation. “I don’t regret a thing,” she said. “Not for a minute.”
Her unwavering support wasn’t enough to keep the commercials on the air, and the LA Times reported in 2008 the commercials had been pulled over outrage directed at Ray for her scarf. She was wearing a black and white scarf some groups said was too reminiscent of extremism and terrorist organizations, and even though Dunkin’ Brands released a statement saying it was just a paisley scarf a stylist had picked for the shoot, they still pulled the commercials.
She’s not so glam at home
Rachael Ray always looks glammed up on television, but that’s not her go-to style. Her high fashion look is all for show, and when she’s not in front of the camera she prefers to be comfortable. “The second I’m inside my front door, I wash my face and put my hair in a ponytail,” she told the Food Network blog. “My entire wardrobe consists of flannel pajamas and [New York] Jets slippers.” Her regular style is so down-to-earth that Ray claims people don’t usually notice her when she goes out in public.
She says career comes before family
In 2005, Ray married musician John Cusimano. He’s the lead singer for a group called The Cringe, and they have their own major following. Ray and Cusimano renewed their vows in 2015, and according to Ray, they haven’t stopped talking since they met (via Heavy). She may say they’re each others’ biggest fans, but one surprising thing Ray has said is that her career comes before her marriage.
She told Good Housekeeping, “I can’t give a man an enormous amount of attention, and John is totally down with that.” She’s left a trail of broken hearts behind her, and has said if anyone she was dating started to demand more time than she was willing to give, she simply moved on.
She has a budding acting career
She’s already taken the cooking world by storm and it looks like Hollywood will be the next industry to receive the Rachael Ray treatment. The TV star has been making the transition from the small screen to the big screen, portraying herself on shows like 30 Rock, Young and Hungry, and Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. In 2017, she made her film debut as the voice of Spam in the animated Emoji Movie.
She can get pretty political
Ray is not afraid to mix food with politics. In 2016, she explained her decision to base her furniture line in the United States. “The American public is fed up with being underemployed,” she told CNBC. “I think our employment rate keeps rising, but we have skilled people that are doing jobs that are not skilled. I think we’ve been frustrated as a country to bring jobs back, and I think we’re on a good path. More and more you see ‘Made in America.’ We certainly try as a company to do our part to get it made here and bring jobs back here.”
While some parts are made in China and Ray is “fine” with this, she added that there is a need for balance. “You have to make sure our economy is also being invested in, and we’re partners to that,” she said. “That’s our goal with everything.”
How she feels about the hate she gets
Ray’s bubbly, down-to-earth personality is a magnet for internet hate, and ABC News talked to her about how that impacted her. She says it doesn’t hurt her feelings in the least, because she can’t let it.
“Not everybody’s going to like it, just like not everybody likes everybody on the playground,” she told them. “I mean, that’s life.”
She went on to say that she needed to have faith in herself, because she sees doing otherwise as “[…] doing a disservice to the people that employ you.” It’s an interesting take on the hate, and she says she reaches out to and connects with the people she wants to in the way they want to. At the end of the day, that’s what matters.
When Good Housekeeping did their profile on her, they also touched on the insane amount of criticism she gets. According to them, she’s able to joke about it. “What am I going to do? Call them up and scream, ‘You have to like me’? It’s like trying to get the class bully to be your buddy — a waste of time.”