December 14, 2006


I'm a Rachael Ray fan. There, I said it. I think I even might have had a crush on her up until a few years ago when I was still in grad school and Rachael was as pleasant a way to nurse a hangover as any. Now that I'm gainfully employed, Rachael and I meet less frequently - scheduling problems, don't you know.

For those who came in late, Rachael Ray is the immensely popular host of such tv shows as '30 Minute Meals' and '$40 A Day' on the Food Network channel. She is known for her wide smile, her almost preternatural perkiness at all times and her gift of the terms 'garbage-bowl'and 'EVOO'to the English lexicon. And, although she is no Mario Batali or Bobby Flay, she is a pretty competent cook. I've made some of her recipes so I can assert, from experience, that they work (A recipe for Venetian Shrimp and Scallops even managed to convert a friend to an appreciation of seafood).

The astute latecomer will surely ask at this point, "so what's not to like?"

Exactly my point.

Imagine then my surprise, and shock, to find that Rachael Ray is one of the most reviled anchors on Food Network! There are websites, entire online 'communities' dedicated to vicious criticism of Rachael Ray. Recently, even the New York Times Magazine found itself compelled to comment on this phenomenon in a lengthy article in its November 26,2006 issue (subscribers to the New York Times can access the article here).

Of the many criticisms leveled at Ms. Ray, the most frequent is that she uses too much of pre-packaged foods (bagged salads, canned and bottled sauces and the like), that she drowns everything in chicken broth and - get this! - her recipes are too easy to make.

This, in a country where a traditional Thanksgiving casserole calls for canned beans (one of the worst abominations in the world), condensed cream of mushroom soup and canned fried onions.

Of course, in a flip-flop worthy of John Kerry, the critics also point out that Rachael Ray's recipes are impossible to make within 30-minutes with or without the pre-packed food. Especially without.

To which I say, yes, it probably is impossible to replicate Rachael Ray's recipes in 30 minutes. But then, so is replicating (and I'm not using the term loosely) any cooking show recipe. They don't call it Food Porn for nothing. Just try making one of Emeril Lagasse's extravaganzas at home! Or get perfect cross-hatched char marks on a steak without a 15,000 BTU grill like the one Bobby Flay has in his backyard. If that isn't Food Porn, I don't know what is.

The other criticism heard most often is the use of her signature phrases, 'yum-O', 'delish', the aforementioned 'garbage-bowl' and her infamous 'EVOO', which she usually says right before (helpfully) expanding it to Extra Virgin Olive Oil. According to a article from July, 2005, "Ray's ditzy demeanor also makes her easy to dismiss. She giggles off-cue and constantly praises her own cooking. " She often asks, rhetorically, "how cool is that?!", 'eyeballs' the measurements of her ingredients and uses a 'spoonola' - a cross between a ladle and a spoon.

Personally, I think EVOO is kinda cool, the garbage-bowl is a damned good idea, see nothing wrong with delish and as for yum-o, have you seen this pictures (here, here and here!) from the October 2003 issue FHM Magazine?! Yum-O indeed! Rachael Ray can lick the chocolate off my spoon anytime!

I think a lot of the hatred for Rachael Ray is in fact because her recipes are easy to make and that anyone of us could do them, if not in 30 minutes, then an hour. The founder of the anti-Rachael Ray on-line group profiled in the New York Times magazine article is quoted as saying that Rachael Ray 'trafficked in "common knowledge."' Another person vented that she had been using a garbage bowl for years and that she even lined hers with plastic bags so as not to have to wash them later.

Cooking shows with trained professional chefs like Mario Batali or Emeril Lagasse or Bobby Flay have an awe factor that Rachael Ray doesn't. We are bedazzled by their knife skills, the use of exotic ingredients, their vast knowledge about the cuisine in which they specialize and the fact that they are all (immensely) successful restaurateurs. And so when one of their recipes, tried at home, looks like it came out of a can, there are ready made excuses: he is a trained chef, he used oyster mushrooms but I only had the cheap supermarket button variety - we put it down to the difference between professionals and amateurs. But with Rachael Ray, we think, "what's so special about her? I could do that too, except I don't have a cooking show, the bitch!". And when a recipe that Rachael made seemingly out nothing but canned tomatoes and chicken broth still doesn't turn out well at home, that's when the yum-os and the delishes really begin to grate and the rage and the resentment and the jealousy boil over.

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