Posted October 31, 2004 by Nick Lindauer in Hot Events

Meet Rachel Ray

Rachael Ray, the chatty cook who rose to Food Network stardom with her quickly prepared meals and eat-on-the-cheap travelogues, gets serenaded on her new show.

Actor-turned-talk-show-host Tony Danza sings to Ray during an upcoming episode of “Inside Dish with Rachael Ray,” premiering at 9 p.m. Friday on the cable network.

But if the idea of mixing food and Danza’s vocal skills leaves you queasy, wait for the moment to pass: Danza is just one of the celebrities Ray hangs out with as she learns what’s cooking in their kitchens, lives and careers.

In the premiere episode, Ray visits the Montecito home of “NYPD Blue” star Dennis Franz to see how he adds an Asian twist to crab cakes.

In another, Ray jumps aboard the tour bus of rock band Aerosmith to talk with guitarist Joe Perry about his Rock Your World Boneyard Brew Hot Sauce made with garlic, lime juice and chipotle and habanero chilies.

Subsequent episodes show her dancing with “Bruce Almighty” star Morgan Freeman at his Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Miss., and getting the scoop on how “ER” star Mekhi Phifer prepared for his big-screen debut in Spike Lee’s “Clockers.” Daisy Fuentes, Jill Hennessy, Cheech Marin and Mariel Hemingway also make appearances.

And, yes, Ray intends to keep shooting new episodes of “30-Minute Meals” and “$40 a Day” even as she works on “Inside Dish,” making for one busy schedule.

“If you gave me the choice between winning $10 million in the lottery or having my life as it is today, hands down I would pick my life,” Ray said last year during an interview with the Ventura County Star, which shares a parent company with the Food Network.

Ray grew up working in her family’s restaurant in Cape Cod, Mass., and calls her mother “the head chef of the only cooking school I’ve ever attended.”

A career in the food industry seemed fated when Ray saw a newspaper ad for a job at one of her favorite places in the world: the food hall known as Macy’s Marketplace in New York. She started at the candy counter and worked her way to the fresh foods department, which stocked 300 kinds of cheese and had what Ray laughingly called “caviar wars” with Zabar’s, a competing market.

It was while working at another market in Albany that Ray came up with the idea of 30-minute cooking classes as a marketing tool to lure time-strapped customers into the shop. A local TV station taped a story about the popularity of the classes, then offered Ray a once-a-week cooking segment, which was shot in people’s homes. A companion cookbook followed.

Today, Ray is the author of an ever-growing list of cookbooks. Her “30-Minute Meals: Around the Clock” and “30-Minute Meals for Kids: Cooking Rocks!” both were published this month.

She explained her appeal to children: “I guess I’m just goofy enough to seem like a cartoon. I have this goofy laugh and wave my hands around a lot.”

Adults, meanwhile, are drawn to Ray’s promise of quick, home-cooked meals. Never mind that she often uses commercial mixes, frozen or canned vegetables, packaged fresh pasta and store-bought cookies and cakes to get the job done in 30 minutes.

“I don’t know that if I had all day and the world’s largest garden that I’d cook any differently,” Ray said, joking that she must suffer from attention deficit disorder, laziness or both.

Her recipes include quick takes on traditionally time-consuming dishes like as cioppino and gumbo.

“(The idea) is not just to make it fast but to please the palate as much as the dish that took three days to make,” Ray said. “Just because it’s 30 minutes doesn’t mean it’s not as good.”

And as viewers may or may not discover thanks to her new series, just because a celebrity cooked, it doesn’t mean it will be tasty.

Ventura County Star staff writer Lisa McKinnon contributed to this report.

Nick Lindauer

The Original Hot Sauce Blog