With several cooking shows on the Food Network, dozens of best-selling cookbooks, a successful magazine, and a Daytime Emmy-winning talk show, celebrity chef Rachael Ray’s passions have remained the same over the years: cooking, her hubby of six years, John Cusimano, and their pit bull Isaboo — though not necessarily in that order!
In addition to the work Ray, 43, does with her nonprofit organization Yum-O!, she has teamed up with the ASPCA for the third annual $100K Challenge, a contest that inspires animal shelters across the country to get more homeless cats and dogs out of shelters and into loving homes.
Ray talked to Parade.com about the $100K Challenge and dished on her favorite meal to cook at home, her surprising dream job, and more.
On the ASPCA Rachael Ray $100K Challenge.
“Just like with Yum-O!, I don’t want to throw big, expensive, flashy parties to raise money. We created a line of pet food called Nutrish that’s made to human standards, and 100 percent of the proceeds go to animal rescue. One of our top-tier donors is the ASPCA, and they help us challenge animal shelters all across the country to get more animals placed in homes. The more placements a shelter makes could earn them up to $100,000. For a small shelter, a little bit of money goes a long, long way. I’m a huge animal lover, so it’s exciting to see people care and help support animals.”[Editor's note: Animal shelters across the nation earn their slots in the $100K Challenge by getting the most online votes from their community members during an initial qualifying heat (April 5 — 16). Find out more at ASPCA.org.]
Where does your endless energy come from?
“I love what I do. I do for a living what I would do on a day off from any other job. I get to cook food that I love and share that with people. I get to chat with world leaders, athletes, rock stars, movie stars, and interact with our viewers. I have this extraordinary life during the day, and then I get to come home to my sweet husband who loves to cook with me. I have a nice glass of wine, he has some scotch, we chat, we cook, and we hang out with the dog. I have an absolute dream life. It’s extraordinary that anybody gets lucky enough to do what they love and get paid for it, and it’s just beyond belief that its afforded me such a great life for my family. That’s why I’m so passionate about giving back as much as I can.”
Is there anything about you that may surprise your fans?
“They might be surprised by how much I actually like to cook. When I go to my house in upstate New York, we invite house guests nine out of the 10 times that we go up there just so I have enough people to cook for. When I have a whole day off, forget about it — I cook enough for an army! People may also be surprised to know that I like to jump out of airplanes. And the weirdest thing about me is that I’ve had a recurring dream my whole life that I get into a bar fight. I start breaking pool sticks and I beat everyone up in the bar. That’s kind of creepy and I don’t understand it, but apparently I want to be in an action movie! My dream job is to be a rock drummer and the alternate drummer for the Foo Fighters. If I’m not making television, I’m always in pajamas or Adidas sweats or beat-up blue jeans and a t-shirt. There’s a lot of things that may surprise people, but I talk so much on air, people are probably sick of hearing about me!”
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What’s your No. 1 guilty pleasure food?
“I have never associated food with guilt. I don’t feel guilty about eating a pizza or a hotdog or a hamburger. I think that life should be lived in moderation. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn until I was a 40-year-old that meaningful exercise really does matter, too. I think I’m in better shape now than I’ve been in a long time. I go to the gym six days a week and I’ve learned to love it, and because I make that time, I feel like I’m OK if I have a piece of pizza or French fries with lunch. I don’t really feel guilt.”
“Well, my husband John doesn’t like to eat before a show [Cusimano is lead singer of the rock band The Cringe], so if my husband plays with his band, we usually don’t eat dinner until midnight. I do feel a little guilty if I take a big bowl of spaghetti to bed with John and we’re sticking two forks in it and we eat half a pound of pasta at midnight. I may need to run an extra mile the next day at the gym! But I’ve never been a huge sweets eater, and I’ve always loved a Mediterranean diet. We eat a lot of dark leafy greens, and a couple meals each week are meat-free. We enjoy eating a balanced diet.”
What’s your favorite meal to cook at home?
“My husband’s favorite meal is carbonara, which is bacon, eggs, and pasta, and it’s always a challenge for me to try and figure out what I can add to it to make it a little different because he asks for it so often. I just made one the other night with spring peas, mint, parsley, and a little lemon zest so it brightened it up. That’s a meal I probably make the most often because I love my husband and I enjoy making that. And I like making anything for my mom. She’s made so many meals for me and she’s been such an inspiration in every area of my life. I love the feeling of cooking for her. It makes me feel really good and privileged, and I take pleasure in that.”
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If you could invite anyone over for dinner, living or dead, who would it be?
“My grandfather. I miss him very much. And my dog Boo, I miss her very much. I would make her butternut squash and my grandpa loved anchovies and sardines, so I’d probably make him spaghetti with kale and sardines or anchovies with breadcrumbs on top.”
How do you deal with the downside of fame?
“I don’t really suffer too much. I always kind of take it tongue-in-cheek. They used to have a website called 'I Hate Rachel Ray' and these people were my most avid viewers. They never missed a show, which I thought was really ironic. Then there was all the hubbub with Anthony Bourdain over the years. I love Tony Bourdain. I have always been an enormous fan of his. I bought all of his murder mystery books. I love his writing and I love watching him on television. I didn’t really care whether or not he was a fan of mine that week, but he and I get along perfectly fine today. He’s actually said very nice, lovely things about me several times, too. Not everybody on the playground is going to like you. That’s not who I focus on, that’s not who I work for. I work for the people that watch me. That’s who my boss is. Everybody has some sort of negativity in their life, and I think that it’s completely futile to waste your time focusing on that. I’m a person who likes to move forward and concentrate on getting my job done to the best of my ability with each and every day that I’m lucky enough to be alive. I want that day to matter. I don’t want that day to be wasted on fighting with somebody.”
You have turned your love of cooking into a successful brand. Do you feel like a powerful businesswoman?
“No, I don’t. In fact, it creeps me out when people say words like ‘empire’ or ‘brand.’ It just feels so Star Wars, so Darth Vader. Empire is such a creepy word! And there are hundreds of people that work with me. We’re a team and we all believe in one thing: that the good life should not be just for the rich, the privileged, and the special. Everybody should be able to make dinner for themselves and feel good about that. Everybody should be able to feel that every day of their lives mattered and was a little bit fun, even if it was hard work. That’s our message. I feel very much the same person today as I’ve been since I was a waitress trying to bring my customer what they want. I'm happy to be working in and around food. It makes people happy and that's a great way to make a living.”
Find out more about Rachael Ray and the ASPCA's $100K Challenge at ASPCA.org
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