Rachael Ray needs no introduction. When she sat down to chat with Christopher Kimball, we learned the stories she’s most comfortable telling about herself are the ones that make people laugh, so she did just that.
On this week’s episode of Milk Street Radio, Ray explains why a box of eclairs meant certain doom when she was growing up, tells us about her wardrobe malfunction at a White House state dinner and gives us a lesson in only paying attention to the positive. Get an extended look at our interview from the excerpts below, and listen to her full conversation with Christopher Kimball here.
On what a box of eclairs meant for three siblings
If my mother was upset with one of her children, she was upset with all of them. It didn’t matter the age. When my brother was a baby, if my sister or I did something wrong, all three of us were rotten children. She had to keep it even. You could tell how bad whatever the thing we did was based on how large the box from the bakery was. My mom used eclairs to calm herself down. One eclair, you know it's not going to be pleasant, but in half an hour we'll all be laughing, and it will be forgotten. If it was anything over two … We were petrified.
On why Richard Nixon is her “favorite” president
Everybody had moved on to the color TV, and I was so envious of my friends because we were practically the last family in our neighborhood that still had a black and white one. One day, Nixon was on TV, and he said something that just enraged my mother. She took off her shoe, which had like a four-inch spike heel, and hurled it across the room. It hit the glass, and the TV literally smoked and blew up. I was thrilled because we finally got not just a new TV but the best TV. So Nixon became my favorite president.
On being a waitress at heart
Pleasing people feels good. It's my role on this planet. I like to give people what they're expecting and surprise them by surpassing that. That's what a good server does, and when I say I'm a waitress, I take that seriously. I don't know if it's part of my DNA, but it was undoubtedly the way I was raised. It's ingrained in me. I think it's a compliment to be a good server. It means that you're compassionate toward the people, and it's my motivation.
On setting fire to Emeril’s kitchen
I'd never worked with any sort of assistants whatsoever, and the pre-production team had been preheating my pan for like an hour. I had no idea, so of course the second I put oil into the pan, whooosh. This huge flame shoots up. It was a good six-, seven-foot flame. They told me not to stop the camera for any reason, so I start chucking salt trying to save the set. I was thinking, “This will be the shortest career in Food Network history.”
On her first interview with Oprah Winfrey
My plane was delayed so many times I spent most of the night crying in the airport. By the time I got to the set, the crew all looked at me with such pity because I had these red puffy eyes, my hair was a mess and I hadn't slept. I was wearing this fancy-fancy outfit and they did my hair in these giant ringlets. It looked like I was trying to imitate Oprah or something, and funny enough she was wearing a casual top and jeans like she was getting ready to shoot 30-minute meals. I thought it was hilarious. Oprah was all casual, and I came out all dressed to the nines.
Oprah did the heavy lifting. She did such a great job with getting me to relax, smile and laugh. She pulled me out of my shell and brought me back down to earth and reality. I’m like, “Snap out of it. Forget about the penne alla vodka, let's just have fun.”
When we went on our second break, she said, “Whatever it is, you got it!”
On the time she almost killed Tony Bennett
I invited Tony Bennett and his lovely wife Susan over for dinner and was so excited. It was such a big deal to me that I had my floors polished for the first time. I had the hors d'oeuvres and the champagne in one room, and in another I was setting the table for our dinner. Tony was looking around for a chair, so I went to pull the chair out for him. It fell out from behind him, and he hit his head on the marble counter and dropped to the floor. I started screaming, “TONY! TONY!”
My husband had gone into the other room to check on the osso buco and came running in. The only person calm in this whole situation was Susan. She was like, “Oh, he's fine. He'll pop right back up.”
I love Tony Bennett and we've been great friends for many years, and I'm really grateful I didn't kill him.
On her wardrobe malfunction at a White House state dinner
I love the Obamas. I've known them well before they were in the White House, and Michelle Obama’s initiatives closely align with my own. I got invited to their last state dinner in October . I picked a dress that I thought was great, but unfortunately, it was unseasonably warm. I was wearing a black turtleneck attached to a skirt that had many, many layers, so I was melting. Just sweat everywhere.
It took hours to get through security. I was walking up the steps, and I'm awful at walking in high heels. I ended up shoving them through the underpinnings of the dress, but they got all tangled and caught up in it. I started to panic, which made it worse; it ended up looking like a wasp nest wrapped around my right foot. By the time I got to the check-in desk, the woman behind the counter had to cut me out of my dress in the White House entryway so I could walk.
A couple hours later, we were finally in the big room, and everybody was sitting down for dinner. They walked us over to our seats, and I was seated at the head table next to the First Lady. I tried to whisper to her girlfriend-to-girlfriend about what happened, and she was like, “You get no pity from me. This dress weighs 20 pounds.”
On the power of positivity
You can only pay attention to the positive. My grandfather taught me that as a little girl. I always think lesser of people that come to me and say things to be provocative or try to perpetuate negative feelings between people. I don't understand the purpose of that. There was a whole website called “I Hate Rachael Ray” for years, and they were devoted watchers and viewers. Not everybody's going to like you, and that's OK with me. I do believe that the love you give is equal to the love you take in. You have to put good out to receive good back.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
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