Chatting with celebrity cook Rachael Ray

Back in the 1980s, when Rachael Ray was a student at Lake George Junior-Senior High School, she didn
At her visit to Lake George Junior-Senior High School last week, food personality and author Rachael Ray holds a framed letter from Rotary International commending her on service to the community. With her are Lake George Rotarians. (David Feiden photo)
At her visit to Lake George Junior-Senior High School last week, food personality and author Rachael Ray holds a framed letter from Rotary International commending her on service to the community. With her are Lake George Rotarians. (David Feiden photo)

Back in the 1980s, when Rachael Ray was a student at Lake George Junior-Senior High School, she didn’t spend her summer days sunbathing and swimming.

“I didn’t have any fun in the summer. I never went on the lake,” she told reporters at a press conference Friday night in the library of her old school.

When she was a teen, Ray wore a polyester uniform and scooped ice cream at Howard Johnson’s, a restaurant managed by her mother on the main drag in the village.

These days, Ray, one of America’s best known TV stars, and her husband, John Cusimano, enjoy Lake George from the deck of a Chris Craft called Delicious.

They like to lounge on the water with a jambox, cocktails and snacks, she said.

“Tie up and party down. We listen to David Bowie.”

For the 14th year, Ray was in town to do a cooking show in the school auditorium.

The $25-per-ticket event, which is always a sellout, has raised more than $200,000 to support scholarship funds and new school equipment.

“Our first show was in 2002, barely 200 people,” said Gloria Gilman, the show’s mistress of ceremonies. “The third year, they were lined up. They would stand in line at 5 a.m. to get tickets, and it’s been that way every since.”

For Rachael and her fans, it was a homecoming and a lovefest, as the down-to-earth food diva hugged and kissed her way through the four-hour event, which included signing her cookbooks.

Dressed casually in black yoga-type pants and a burgundy pullover top, Ray sipped a glass of red wine during the show as she prepared three dishes, shared personal stories and answered questions from the audience in the easygoing, off-the-cuff style that has become her trademark.

Ray, who was born in Glens Falls and moved to Lake George when she was eight years old, graduated almost 30 years ago, in 1986.

“I don’t even recognize this village any more. It makes me feel old,” she said at the pre-show press conference.

Ray, who lives in New York’s East Village, owns a small cabin in Lake Luzerne and travels there regularly to relax and visit family.

“I live up the road, five minutes from here,” she joked.

Plenty to be proud of

Asked about her accomplishments, Ray said she was proud that her syndicated, Emmy Award-winning TV show “Rachael Ray Show” was in its 11th year and that her magazine Every Day With Rachael Ray was 10 years old. She is also the host of three series on the Food Network.

“I want people to see themselves in our shows, it’s not about celebrities. We try to have real conversations with celebrities. We are an unscripted television show.”

At her show in Lake George, Ray cooked and talked while standing behind a long table as her mom, sister, niece and brother watched from the first row. (Her husband stayed in Lake Luzerne with Isaboo, their beloved pit bull.)

Ray prepared three recipes from “Everyone is Italian on Sunday,” her latest and 22nd cookbook: “Cod Saltimbocca,” “Drunken Spaghetti with Sweet Roasted Beets and Ricotta Salata,” and “Beef Milanese with Tomato, Basil and Bitter Greens Raw Sauce.”

“It’s more about chatting than cooking. You can ask me about anything,” Ray said.

A little girl asked her what was the first meal she ever made.

“Lasagna rollups . . . for my mommy’s birthday . . . with mimosas,” she said.

“I’m not a chef, I grew up cooking with my mom. Mom ran restaurants for 50 years. If you wanted to be near my mom, you were in a restaurant.”

Ray talked about the first time she was invited to cook with three top chefs, on the TV show “Iron Chef America” in 2006.

With Mario Batali as her partner, she competed against Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis.

The night before the event, she was a nervous wreck.

“I didn’t sleep all night. I threw up,” she said.

But she and Mario prepared a version of her “Drunken Spaghetti” and won the match.

Ray learned about food and Italian culture from her Sicilian grandfather, who lived with them with when she was a girl. When she brought sardine-and-onion sandwiches in her lunch bag, she became “the weird kid” at school.

“I grew up thinking and eating like a 70-year-old Sicilian man. We grew up loving kale long before kale was cool.”

COD SALTIMBOCCA

Juice of 11⁄2 lemons

4 tablespoons EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil)

8 (4-5 ounce) thick pieces of skinned cod or any sustainable white fish

1⁄2 teaspoon granulated garlic

Salt and pepper

16 small fresh sage leaves

8 thin slices prosciutto

1⁄2 cup dry vermouth

2 tablespoons butter

In a bowl, combine two-thirds of the lemon juice and three tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the fish and turn to coat in the lemon oil. Remove the fish and season with the garlic and salt and pepper. Top each piece of fish with two small sage leaves and wrap evenly in a layer of prosciutto. Refrigerate the fish for at least one hour or up to overnight to allow the sage to perfume the fish.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the remaining one tablespoon olive oil over medium to medium high heat. Add the fish and cook to brown and crisp the ham on both sides. Add the vermouth and partially cover the pan or tent with foil and reduce the heat a bit.

Cook until the fish is opaque (look at the exposed ends) and cooked through, about four minutes. Transfer the fish to plates.

Add the butter to the skillet and melt. When it foams, add the remaining lemon juice and swirl it in. Drizzle the sauce over the fish.

Serves four.

More from Rachael Ray

COD SALTIMBOCCA: “If you don’t like fish, try wrapping it in ham and you’ll like it a lot better.” The vermouth keeps your kitchen from smelling fishy, she says.

ROMANCE: Ray says she had to marry a man who likes garlic. “After five, I smell like wine and garlic.”

COOKBOOK: She’s writing a new cookbook, an anthology about the different ways people eat today, including vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and lactose-free.

HERBS: “I’ve never met an herb I didn’t like.” Don’t put fresh basil in the fridge. Put it on the counter and put a plastic bag over it like a mini greenhouse.

HER RECIPES: Rachael takes notebooks everywhere she goes. “I’m always experimenting in my head. I write every single recipe by myself.”

DOGS AND CATS: Her organization and Nutrish pet foods have raised $15 million to support animal rescue.

HER DOG ISABOO: “I don’t have human children. My real-life baby is a red-nosed pit bull.”

NEW PRODUCT: “We just launched a furniture line. We’ll be in stores in August.”

The furniture is made in America from sustainable materials.

FAVORITE TV SHOW: “The Night Manager” on AMC.

Reach Gazette reporter Karen Bjornland at 395-3197, [email protected] or on Twitter @bjorngazette.

Categories: Food

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