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Rachael Ray is tense. She is holding this reporter's tape recorder in one hand, a Dunkin' Donuts iced coffee in the other, and putting up with six hands messing around in her hair as a trio of stylists weaves extensions into the great Ray's scalp before a taping of the Rachael Ray Show.
As she will tell you herself, Ray has at least five jobs. There's her signature show on the Food Network, 30 Minute Meals. Then there are Inside Dish with Rachael Ray, Rachael Ray's Tasty Travels, and $40 a Day. And don't forget her syndicated talkfest, the Rachael Ray Show. She's written 15 cookbooks and she has her own magazine. She even has a line of knives and cookware. Ray, who turns 40 this month, has also found time to launch a nonprofit charity called Yum-o. And as her viewers well know, when Ray goes home (well after 7 p.m. most nights), no salty Chinese takeout eats. Instead she whips up real food -- such as a pasta carbonara -- for her husband, John Cusimano, and herself.
Ray remains focused, however. Despite her cozy outfit of fluffy bunny slippers and what looks like a luxe bathrobe of gray cashmere, she is all business.
Ladies' home Journal: You lead a busy life. What do you do to dial down and relax?
Rachael Ray: I don't dial down. Even when I'm on vacation I'm writing constantly. When I was in Aspen on my honeymoon, I wrote three-quarters of a book. Quite frankly, everything I do -- traveling, chatting, cooking -- is exactly what I'd do on a day off. And I'm lucky enough that someone pays me for it.
LHJ: And quite a lot of money, too [Ray reportedly earns $16 million a year]. Did you ever think you would be such a raging, unqualified success?
RR: No way. My mother raised us so that when an opportunity came up, we should take the risk. But I never wanted to be on TV or have anything to do with magazines. I just liked working with food. Food makes everybody feel good. There are four or five people on the planet who don't eat by choice. They're cranky.
LHJ: You have a younger brother, Emmanuel, and an older sister, Maria. Do they cook, too?
RR: My brother will spend all day making a complicated soup or stew. My sister is a great baker, and I can't bake at all. When I was a kid [Rachael is eight years younger than Maria] she'd make cakes that looked like three-dimensional choo-choo trains and all that kind of crap. I made a lemon cottage cake for my mother when I was 15. I had to sift the flour four times and I spent four hours crying because the thing never rose. The whole idea of baking makes me grumpy.
LHJ: Are you a fan of kids' baking? It seems as if you prefer having them get into actual cooking, as you point out in your new Yum-o! The Family Cookbook.
RR: If kids are involved in making dinner and see that everyone else is taking pleasure in what they've done, they feel an enormous sense of pride. It's not just how to make popcorn balls that look like lions or how to decorate a cupcake. That's play food. I did the book both to raise money for the Yum-o charity and to make a collection of recipes that are family friendly.
LHJ: One of Yum-o's missions is to ensure that kids don't go hungry.
RR: America is a country of gluttony. We have so much food, but we still have hungry children? It's an embarrassment. And there's so little discussion from any of the [presidential] candidates about the food that goes into our kids when they're in school. All they talk about is healthcare, but the biggest factor in the cost of healthcare is the future health of your kids. Why aren't people asking presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle what they're going to do to make our kids healthier and lower our healthcare costs? I mean, who's subsidizing broccoli?
LHJ: Does working with kids make you want one of your own?
RR: I enjoy kids so much but I don't have time to physically have them. I'm going to be on the air for another three or four years, so I may not have the opportunity. This is a way to work with kids at every age.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, August 2008.