Rachael Ray openly admits that she has no formal chef training, yet that hasn’t stopped her from becoming one of America’s most loved – and hated – Food Network personalities. Ray’s EVOO, a short term for extra-virgin olive oil, became so popular it was added to the Oxford American College Dictionary in 2007.
For years she has been in the spotlight and not always for the best reasons, which might be why her star is beginning to fade…but you can’t deny the unbelievable way her career took off, and it all started when she was young.
Growing Up In The Kitchen
Rachael Ray was born and raised in 1968, in upstate New York. Her parents are of Italian, Welsh, Scottish, and French descent. Early in her life, Ray’s family owned and operated three restaurants on Cape Cod.
Later in her youth, Ray’s mother Elsa helped open and manage several restaurants. A working mother, Elsa often brought her children to work with her and put them to work in the kitchen. This upbringing would affect Ray in ways they couldn’t have imagined.
She Had An Eye For Food As A Teen
Ever since she was a teenager, Rachael Ray had a knack for putting together food and meals. While in high school, Ray started a gift basket service called “Delicious Liaisons,” according to The New York Times.
After school, she would curate all the items and pack them neatly into baskets herself. Ray even hand-lettered an entire catalog for her small business. It seemed she was destined for a multi-media empire centered around food.
She Was Always Underqualified
After dropping out of college, Ray applied for a candy-counter manager position at Macy’s. Despite telling her she was “grossly underqualified” for the job, they made later made her the manager of the fresh-foods department at Macy’s Marketplace and she flourished.
After they wanted to transfer her to accessories, Ray knew it was food she wanted to work with. She left Macy’s to work at the gourmet food store Agata & Valentina in New York City.
The Encounters That Changed Everything
Rachael Ray loved working at Agata & Valentina, until something happened that changed everything. On her way home one night, Ray was held at gunpoint by a teenage boy, but was able to deter him with her pepper spray.
That would’ve been the end of it, but less than two weeks later the boy returned and assaulted Ray with his handgun. That time, he was scared off by her building’s guard dog, but it was enough to make her want to leave the city.
A Fresh Start
After getting mugged, Ray decided to move back to upstate New York, where she landed a job as a buyer at a gourmet market called Cowan & Lobel in Albany. She brought a lot of amazing and cool products into the store but realized some items just weren’t selling.
When she asked customers why, she learned it was because they simply didn’t know how or have the time to cook. It was then that she got a brilliant idea.
A Star Is Born
Ray and her colleagues at Cowan & Lobel came up with the idea to offer cooking classes to customers. She reasoned that if they were willing to wait half an hour for a pizza, then they’d willingly take the same amount of time to cook a meal. They decided to call their classes “30-Minute Meals.”
But when they had trouble looking for a chef to teach the class, Ray’s bosses told her to do it.
She Became A Local Phenomenon
Ray told her bosses she wasn’t a chef, but she had been cooking in the store kitchen so often that they knew she could do it. The classes turned out to be a hit and soon she was teaching the class in her own segment on the local evening news.
Ray’s local fans requested a book of all her recipes, so she worked with an independent publisher to get it done in 1998. She sold 10,000 copies in two weeks.
Rachael’s Big Break
In 2001, a producer of the Today show saw one of Rachael Ray’s cookbooks. When the show needed some new guests, Ray was one of the first people who came to mind and they gave her a call. She drove nine hours in the show to make soups for Al Roker.
Meanwhile, a Food Network executive heard Ray cooking on a radio show. The day after her Today appearance, she signed a $360,000 contract with the Food Network.
She Came In With Her Pans Blazing
When she started out on Food Network, she had to film a pilot for 30 Minute Meals and recalls almost burning down the set. Ray was so nervous she avoided actual cooking by talking a lot.
When she finally started cooking, she poured some oil in a pan. Unfortunately, she didn’t know the producers had already heated the pan to save time and the oil caused the whole thing to burst into flames!
Coffee And Toast Aren’t Her Specialties
Rachael Ray knows that she’s no “expert” in the kitchen. She’s even admitted to messing up two of the simplest things: coffee and toast.
She wrote on li.st, “I can cook, but I cannot… make coffee (it looks like mud or pee) or toast bread (I set it on fire).” She’s not ashamed of her inexperience in the kitchen. If anything, it’s that lack of experience that makes Ray such a likable person.
People Paid Attention To Her Weight
As Rachael Ray’s star power began to grow, so did her waistline and people couldn’t help but notice. When she was 40 years old, she had an operation to have a cyst removed from her vocal chords, which required her to remain silent for weeks. It was pretty hard, considering she’s a talk show personality.
Ray directed all her pent-up energy towards going to the gym and noticeably lost a lot of weight.
They Called Her “Racial Ray”
In 2007, TMZ sources accused Ray of making “disparaging racial remarks” about Oprah Winfrey. While at a dinner with friends, Ray was allegedly heard making unsavory comments about a portrait of Oprah from the movie Beloved.
The rumors were unfounded, but many believed that it sparked a feud between Oprah and Ray. Later on, Ray said of all the rumors about her, that one hurt the most. After all, why would she bad mouth the woman who helped start her career?
They Accused Rachael Ray Of What?!
In a Dunkin’ Donuts commercial, Rachael Ray wore a black and white scarf that didn’t sit well with many Americans. The scarf apparently resembled a kaffiyeh, which is a traditional Arab headdress. As a result, Ray was accused of being a Muslim extremist and terrorist sympathizer.
Eventually, the commercial was pulled because this one detail detracted from the point of selling iced coffee. In the end, the scarf in question was revealed to actually have a paisley print.
Rachael Ray Became The Face Of Dunkin’
At the height of Rachael-mania in 2007, she was named the new celebrity endorser of Dunkin’ Donuts. Ray famously proclaimed she can’t make good coffee, so the partnership was seemingly meant to be.
But all was well until Ray’s first commercial with the coffee and donut chain was first released. Though she referred to their coffee as “fantabulous,” there was something else in the commercial that sparked a nationwide outrage.
Ray’s Show Was Sued For Being Mean
In 2013, The Rachael Ray Show was sued by a teenager who came onto the show to participate in a weight-loss program that was documented for the show. Christina Pagliarolo, who weighed 260 lbs at the time, allegedly sued the show for negligence and emotional distress.
Pagliarolo claims the trainers pushed her too far and yelled at her when she couldn’t perform the exercises well. The show claimed they never received a lawsuit, so no one knows what became of the teen.
It Happened Again
Even though she started going to the gym regularly, Ray found herself in the tabloids again because of another bout with weight gain in 2016. Eight years after her surgery, pictures surfaced of Ray looking noticeably rounder than usual.
This time around, comments surrounding the weight gain were a little more sympathetic when people found out that Ray was struggling with menopause. Not only was it hard to maintain her weight, but she also suffered frequent migraines and night sweats.
She Can’t Be Ashamed About Those FHM Pictures
In 2003, when Rachael Ray’s career was taking off, she posed for her own feature in the men’s magazine FHM. Though she wasn’t nude in any of the photos, many couldn’t bear to see Ray dressed so provocatively – especially her own mother.
But Ray is proud of the shoot, telling The New York Times, “I thought, I’m a cook, I’m over 35 and these young guys love it. When I’m 80 I’m going to look back and be like, ‘I represented!'”
Caught In The Middle
Rachael Ray’s name is pretty simple, but in 2016 it got her caught in the middle of a scandal. When Beyoncé released Lemonade, Jay-Z’s infidelity came to light. Fans believed the “Becky with the good hair” that Bey references in “Sorry” alludes to fashion designer Rachel Roy.
Unfortunately, Beyoncé’s legion of loyal fans confused “Roy” with “Ray” and sent a barrage of social media hatred towards the TV cooking personality.
Which Rachael Is Which?
Eventually, Beyoncé’s “Beyhive” realized they were attacking the wrong person. But Rachael Ray laughed off the case of mistaken identity and sent designer Rachel Roy a bottle of wine. Apparently, it wasn’t the first time the two women were confused, either. Ray once accidentally picked up Roy’s dry cleaning!
Ray also made light of the situation by taking the opportunity to promote her own recipe for lemonade lavender ice cubes on her Instagram account!
Rachael Ray’s Rocker Husband
Rachael Ray met John Cusimano at a mutual friend’s party. The lawyer-by-day, lead-singer-of-punk-rock-band-The-Cringe-by-night impressed Ray when he told her that he loved to cook. They tied the knot at an Italian castle in 2005 and have been together ever since (despite multiple rumors of infidelity on Cusimano’s part).
Cusimano, who took up mixology as a hobby, even wrote My Year in Cocktails as a companion to Ray’s 2012 publication My Year in Meals.
Her Husband Brought The Drama This Time
After barely one year of marital bliss, rumors already started flying about Cusimano’s infidelity. According to The Enquirer, a woman who claimed to be his lover said she was involved with him even while he was already with Ray.
Though he denied the rumors, in 2013 his name made headlines again when he was reportedly seen visiting a Manhattan swingers club on multiple occasions. He would apparently go with a different escort every time.
They Have Been Happily Married For More Than A Decade
Regardless of the rumors that surrounded them, Rachael Ray and John Cusimano remain happily married to this day. In fact, they renewed their vows in a beautiful ceremony to celebrate ten years of marriage in 2015.
The ceremony took place at the same Tuscan castle in Italy where they initially tied the knot. Ray, who calls Cusimano “Johnny Walker” because of his love for the Scotch, read the Charles Bernstein poem “All the Whiskey in Heaven” for her vows.
For The Love Of Dog
Rachael Ray adopted her dog Isaboo in 2005 and has considered the pit bull a part of her family ever since. “She is my daughter. I only want to feed her the best quality food,” Ray told Dogster.
Ray’s love for Isaboo has inspired her to create her own line of dog food called Nutrish. Part of the proceeds from each sale of Nutrish is donated to Rachael’s Rescue, which has donated more than $14 million to pet charities.
The Incredible Garbage Bowl
Rachael Ray fans learn a lot of tips and tricks from her cooking show, 30 Minute Meals, where she popularized the use of the garbage bowl. You keep a large bowl nearby while you cook to throw away scraps and trash without having to go back and forth to a trash can.
Many people associate this kitchen hack with Ray, but sources claim that she herself got the idea from Food Network chef Sara Moulton.
She Wants Kids To Say Yum-O!
Rachael Ray’s net worth is reportedly around $60 million, but there’s a reason you never see her flaunting her wealth like other celebrities. When she’s not on television or working on new products and cookbooks, Ray dedicates much of her time to charity.
Ray launched Yum-o! in 2006 as a nonprofit organization meant to encourage kids and their families to develop a strong, healthy relationship with food. Yum-o! teams up with other organizations such as Feeding America.
What’s With Her Voice?
Love it or hate it, one characteristic that is essential to Rachael Ray’s persona is her raspy voice. It may not seem like a big deal to some, but apparently there are people out there who’ve been concerned about it.
If you must know, Ray’s voice is the way it is because of croup, a lung infection common among children, that she suffered as a child. Luckily, Ray has recovered from it as she grew up.
Recently She Has Gone Entrepreneur
More recently, Rachael Ray has focused her attention on retail pursuits. Not only has she come out with her own line of cookware like many of her contemporaries, but she is also doling out her own line of furniture. Ray is making sure her name isn’t too obvious on her products, “[that] way, even if you hate me you can still buy it,” she tells The New York Times.
In addition to furniture, she is also reportedly working on a line of both expensive and affordable handbags. She’s a bit more behind-the-scenes these days.
She Doesn’t Have Ears For Her Harshest Critics
Despite Rachael Ray’s overnight success, not everyone in the culinary community was supportive. The late Anthony Bourdain has notoriously lambasted plenty cooks in his heyday. Of Rachael Ray, he has said, “I’ve made many meals in under thirty minutes. Unlike the registered trademark, mine are edible.”
But Ray has never let the harsh words bring her down. Ray knows where she came from, telling The New York Times, “I have no formal anything. I’m completely unqualified for any job I’ve ever had.”
Rachael Ray Has Advice For #MeToo
Rachael Ray has been known to purposely stay apolitical. When her dear friend and fellow Food Network personality Mario Batali was one of the men exposed during the #MeToo movement, Ray didn’t comment. She told the New York Times that she hasn’t spoken to him since, but gave no hints about her opinion.
She did have this advice though: “Women should see they need to speak out in the moment. When something happens, say it out loud and address it immediately.”
She Loves Music Festivals
Rachael Ray has said that she loves all kinds of music, so it’s no wonder she married a musician. In fact, Ray loves music so much that she throws a free concert called Feedback every year during the South by Southwest Music Festival.
Her concert is open to 3,000 people and features free beer and bites, courtesy of the television host herself. Past guests have included her husband’s band The Cringe, Salt-N-Pepa, and a Beatles supergroup.