Rachael Ray on Communicating Through the Medium of Food

Rachael Ray

I’m Alan Alda and this is Clear and Vivid, conversations about connecting and communicating.

Rachael:                                               I try and write to make people feel successful about themselves in the kitchen. That’s the part I want to communicate, is that you’ll feel better if you do this a little more often. It’ll make you happy. It’ll fill up your soul, you’ll feel good about yourself, you’ll spend less money, you’ll be healthier, you’ll just feel better if you cook.





Alan:                            00:00               Rachael, I’m so glad you’re doing this podcast with, because we talk a lot about communicating, in many different ways, all kinds of different ways, and this is the first we’ve ever been able to talk about communicating with food, through food.

Rachael:                       00:16               You know, and I love that you’re finally getting to that message, because for me, the reason I like working in food is that it is such a great conduit, it’s such a great communicator. And it does things that words can’t do. It can connect you with literally who you are, with generations that we’ve lost, you know? I miss my grandfather. In a lot of ways he was like my dad to me, he was my best friend when I was a little girl, and he lived in our house. And I miss him. But when I make things that he loves, I’m with him.

And it’s … food is more powerful than words in some ways, because it appeals to all of your senses, you know? So it really is like I’m physically with him, and back in all these moments.

Alan:                            01:06               I had such a similar experience, as somebody had heard my father’s recipe on the radio, he did a radio show for a while and he gave a recipe for Italian Easter cake. And she sent me the recipe.

Rachael:                       01:26               So sweet.

Alan:                            01:27               And either we made it or we found a place to get it. So I was connected to my father, but through the conduit of the radio show.

Rachael:                       01:35               Through the food.

Alan:                            01:35               And through the food.

Rachael:                       01:36               And you know, when you’re poor, food can take you anywhere in the world. I couldn’t afford to travel when I was young, but I could go anyplace I wanted. I could have Morocco in my living room.

Alan:                            01:48               You really thought of it that way?

Rachael:                       01:49               I always thought of food that way. Food can take you anyplace you want to go that you don’t have the time or the money to get to, it can connect you with people that you miss. And it-

Alan:                            02:01               And you know, when you go to a foreign country, it’s so interesting, food is an expression of the culture. Almost every time you go, they say, “Do you like our food?”

Rachael:                       02:10               Do you know what I start with every time I travel anywhere whether it’s in our wonderful, brilliant, super wide country that’s like 50 different countries in one, whenever I go to a place that’s new to me, foreign or domestic, I go to the marketplace first. I get to know the people that live there. And when I travel, I try more often than not to rent a place that has a kitchen so I can feel what it’s like to be a person of that culture, you know? I can go and shop and get to know some of the locals, and talk to them about what they love, and how they cook it. And then I get to go play.

Alan:                            02:46               But you don’t you ever take a day off-

Rachael:                       02:48               Never.

Alan:                            02:48               From cooking?

Rachael:                       02:49               Never.

Alan:                            02:49               It just sounds crazy.

Rachael:                       02:49               The only vacation I take every year is for my anniversary. And for my anniversary, we invite about 40 friends, we’ve cut way back, it used to be over 100. And we bring them with us to Italy, where we were married, and I rent a … kind of a villa, house thing that’s got a huge kitchen, and I go immediately from the airport to the kitchen. Immediately. And I cook for 40 people for the whole weekend, for all of the big feasts. And it’s what I do for fun.

And when I go home on the weekends, I cook for my mom for the weeks, she’s 84 and she has a little macular degeneration, so she can’t see in the middle, so it’s hard for her to cook, and she cooked for 55 years in restaurants. So I like to go home and I cook ahead for mom. And we always have friends that come up so that I have an audience. It’s like my husband, he’s a lawyer by day but he’s really a musician at heart, that’s his soul. And my husband has to have people to play for, and I have to have people to cook for, do you know what I mean?

Alan:                            02:49               I do, I do.

Rachael:                       03:51               So I have to always have people in my home to cook for, and I have to cook ahead. It makes me feel whole, and this is the next part of the communication of food that’s different than the communication of words.

There is a sense of pride, and it’s a big self esteem builder to learn how to cook and prepare food, and to be able to live on very little money, changes the quality of the rest of your life. If you can take a little bit of money and go to the grocery store and know how to take dried beans, root vegetables, one chicken, and use all of the parts of something, and to be able to sustain yourself for not a lot of cash, it’s a huge factor in your life. You never get scared that you’re going to run out of this or that. You feel a different sense of, “I’m going to be okay.” It’s like a security blanket, knowing how to cook.

That’s why I think it’s so important to teach children, and to make them comfortable being in a kitchen from the time they’re little, little babies, literally. Because it’s such an important tool for the rest of their live, whether they’re going to be a rocket scientist, or a doctor, or a surgeon, or whatever, everybody should have those basic skills that we use to make part of our promise in our public school system.

Alan:                            05:08               Yeah.

Rachael:                       05:09               One of the things I’m most angry about, a lot makes me angry, I’m Sicilian, so … I’m a [inaudible 00:05:15] little person. But something that really disappoints me-

Alan:                            05:09               Yeah.

Rachael:                       05:19               And I would never trade my passport, I’m so proud to be an American, the only reason I have what I have and that my family has, everything, roof over our head, and food in our fridge, and all of our blessings is because I am an American. My story could’ve not happened anywhere else in the world, in my opinion.

But one thing that breaks my heart is the difference in the quality of public education from when I was a girl to today. When I was a girl in public school, everybody got Home Ec, Shop, everybody got a basic toolkit of how to provide for themselves, and you could graduate public high school and go to work.

Alan:                            05:59               Yeah, but-

Rachael:                       05:59               And you could be proud of it, you could go to work and be a mechanic, or a line cook, or work at a restaurant. You had life skills that are necessary, in my opinion, but you also had training so you could literally leave high school and go to work.

And you had time together to socialize. We had recess, and it was a big deal.

Alan:                            06:20               Yeah.

Rachael:                       06:20               We had long lunch times, long lunch periods. Kids now get as a little as 15 to 20 minutes, they don’t communicate with each other the same. They get very limited, if they’re lucky, recess at all. We’ve cut back on everything, on the arts, on their physical activity, on the quality of school food. I worked with the Obamas for 11 years, and with the Clintons before them, trying to improve the quality of school food. It is the only even playing field we have to feed our children, those that are at risk of going hungry, and those that are suffering from adult disease, because their quality of food is so poor. The only place we can get them all good nutrition is through our schools. And we got the first hike in 10 cents a kid in more than a decade, and it was taken away two days into this administration. Two days after President Trump took the White House. And no matter how you vote, I don’t think that’s acceptable. Period.

So you know, there’s a lot that I miss from my childhood, and I think that’s why I have a job. Because people don’t learn simply skills, like how to make dinner, or cook for themselves-

Alan:                            07:31               How did you get from loving to cook to being so good at communicating that to the rest of us? I mean, you’re an extraordinary communicator.

Rachael:                       07:44               I think that that’s my grandpa … was a very creative man. Here’s an example. He was my best friend when I was a girl, and he used to play cards, Tresette and Scopa, with his friends, the [Runzel 00:08:00] boys. And we would get the Italian paper, which you could only get like once a week at the big news stand. So he’d bring home the Oggi Italia but it was old, you know, it was several days too late. And we had a short wave radio that never worked. So he would put on a headset, and pretend like he was listening to the game, but he was reading it from a day’s old paper. But he’d react as if it was all being played in front of his friends.

Alan:                            07:44               So he was-

Rachael:                       08:31               He would perform for them.

Alan:                            08:32               He was the first theater [inaudible 00:08:33].

Rachael:                       08:33               Right, exactly. So he was terrific at that. And when I was a little girl, he valued reading and his ability to read in English so much, I was taught to read by my grandpa before I went to school. And we would read aloud to each other. So it was not just about the presentation of the book, but about being able to tell him the story back, and to make up the different voices, and to be the different characters.

And I remember when I went to kindergarten in Mashpee Central School, my grandfather made me wear my good shoes and a dress, and I hate dresses. My grandpa made me wear a dress and my best shoes, and I could pick out my favorite books to bring to school with me. And I went to school, and the other little boys and girls had not been taught to read yet, and my teacher took away my books. And I immediately burst into tears.

Alan:                            09:22               Why did she take away your books?

Rachael:                       09:23               It went downhill … because the other children didn’t know how to read yet.

Alan:                            09:23               You mean-

Rachael:                       09:26               So I wasn’t allowed to have books.

Alan:                            09:28               It would be unfair to them.

Rachael:                       09:28               Right, because the rest of the class didn’t know how to read yet, so I was going to share my books with everybody, but my teacher took them away. And then, I got made fun of because all the other kids were in Dungarees, they call them jeans now, but my mom used to call them Dungarees, everybody else is in Dungarees and their cool new sweaters, and I’m in a dress. And like Italian dress shoes.

Alan:                            09:47               Yeah.

Rachael:                       09:48               So I got made fun of for that. And then when it really hit the fan was when we went to lunch, we had lunchtime, right, and then nappy time after lunchtime. Well everybody else takes out their like, you now, their Cheetos, or Doritos, or their poppy tart things or whatever they have, or the bologna sandwich. I pull out my lunch … and he packed my favorite lunch which is a sardine sandwich. And my lunch smelled so bad. All the other kids called me Smelly.

Alan:                            10:19               Smelly.

Rachael:                       10:19               So I have no books, I’m dressed differently from everybody, I was ostracized in kindergarten. Thank god the gas crisis came along, our restaurants went bankrupt and we had to move to upstate New York, because clearly I’d have never had a friend in all of school if I had stayed in Cape Cod.

Alan:                            10:37               And from that you became a TV star.

Rachael:                       10:39               Yes. That was my training, exactly. Plus I think anybody’s who’s got Sicilian blood in them anywhere, we are really good at being overly dramatic about absolutely everything.




So you know, I think it’s kind of fun. But I was this way, a big talker, and would tell the story of everything, and be the boss of what people were going to do with the food I sold them when I worked at marketplaces and restaurants too. I would tell people what they should order and why. Or I would tell people what to make with the ingredients that I was helping them procure when we obviously Macy’s marketplace or in [Agotin 00:11:14] Valentino.

Like I’m just bossy, and I like to talk a lot.

Alan:                            11:18               Yeah, but you talk about interesting things. For instances, you seem to like to attach a historical story to the food.

Rachael:                       11:26               I do, because I think that it’s really important, especially in a country as young as ours, to understand the importance of our origins, where we all come from and where our food comes from. And the life skills that are a component to all of these things. I’m a curious person, and I think you remain curious if you continue that learning process. If you’re always gathering information, you want to share that information, that’s the point of it, is to share.

Alan:                            11:52               It makes the food taste … and I wouldn’t say it makes the food taste different, but it gives you a different angle on the food, there’s an extra pleasure associated with it if there’s an interesting story.

Rachael:                       12:04               There is.

Alan:                            12:04               Like the pasta that we made-

Rachael:                       12:04               Exactly.

Alan:                            12:06               On the show. With the-

Rachael:                       12:08               Four ingredients-

Alan:                            12:09               Yeah.

Rachael:                       12:09               And it goes back hundreds of years.

Alan:                            12:11               Yeah.

Rachael:                       12:11               And the difference between Pecorino Romano, and Parmigiano. I think-

Alan:                            12:14               I’ve got to ask you something, we were working together.

Rachael:                       12:17               Yeah.

Alan:                            12:17               You kept talking about toasted spaghetti.

Rachael:                       12:20               Yes.

Alan:                            12:21               What the hell is that? I tried to figure it out and I couldn’t get-

Rachael:                       12:25               It’s exactly what it sounds like. When you toast anything, you develop its flavor. In food, color equals flavor. So when you’re cooking a steak you want that reddish brown crust and crunch on the outside, you want to develop the sugars in the protein. When you’re cooking a pasta, if you toast it first, it develops this nutty undertone. If the spaghetti turns brown in the pan before you add the liquid and you cook it in the liquid, two things will happen. You get more starch, because it’s cooking in a very small amount of liquid instead of in a large pot of boiling water. And if you toast it first, you have this other layer of flavor because of the process of toasting the pasta.

Alan:                            13:10               So to make pasta toasted, you put it in a pan with what?

Rachael:                       13:15               Butter or olive oil.

Alan:                            13:17               Butter or olive oil.

Rachael:                       13:17               And you heat the pan to between medium and medium high, and you add the pasta, and you brown it, brown it, brown it. When it’s really nutty and fragrant, per pound of pasta you add one quart of liquid. Water, chicken stock, whatever you like.

Alan:                            13:31               And at this point, you start boiling it.

Rachael:                       13:33               That’s right, then you bring it up to a boil-

Alan:                            13:35               Yeah.

Rachael:                       13:35               And you let all of that liquid absorb. It’s kind of like making a risotto, but you’re doing it with pasta rather than short grain rice.

Alan:                            13:42               I never heard of this, this is so interesting.

Rachael:                       13:44               Yeah.

Alan:                            13:44               But when you talk about this, you talk like a chemist. You talk about the sugar content and-

Rachael:                       13:44               There’s a little bit of science in food, yeah.

Alan:                            13:51               How did you get hold of that information?

Rachael:                       13:53               Again, it’s all that … you know, if you’re a curious person, you’re just a curious person. Why does that turn brown?

Alan:                            13:57               Did you study this at a college-

Rachael:                       13:59               No, no I went to school or communications, and economics, and all the things. I didn’t need to go to school for food. I went to the culinary institute of my mother. We all grew up working in restaurants, from the time before we had working papers. My mom did not like strangers watching her kids. So we had very few babysitters over the years. My grandpa was my caretaker when I was little, he lived with us until he passed away. And my mom would take us with her to work, we would go to the restaurant with mom.

And we’d sit in the back booth in the kitchen, do our homework and go about life, so we could be near mom and she could keep an eye on us. I mean, we were all cleaning out walk-ins, peeling shrimp, helping unload big boxes way before we had working papers. She should probably be in jail for breaking child labor laws.

But you know, it does so much for you for the rest of your life. It makes you appreciate work. Work is a privilege, it’s not a right. And you really get to love that feeling if you work from a very early age, it becomes a necessary part of your day. I don’t relax well. I don’t like the feeling at the end of the day unless I’ve been busy at things.

Alan:                            13:59               Yeah.

Rachael:                       15:17               And I need to exhaust my mind and my body, and it’s because that’s the course of my life.

My grandfather was a stone mason, and he would work all day, go home and tend his gardens literally all night. And if the Northern Lights would come out, he’d go wake his children, my mother was the first of 10. He was one of 14. He would go wake his children and bring them outside so they could see the light show, the free light show, and he’d sing to them. And he-

Alan:                            15:44               When did he get any sleep?

Rachael:                       15:45               He didn’t, that’s the point. That’s who I come from. It’s more important to have a quality of life. I don’t think that quantity and quality should be equal things, you know?

I don’t want a lot of free time, it’s more fun to be awake, and alive, and thinking, and doing things, and singing, and telling jokes, and telling stories, and cooking. It’s so much more fun than sleeping, sleeping is a bore, you know what I mean? It’s like a real drag.

Alan:                            16:11               I get a lot of work done while I sleep. So do you, when you cook for people …

Rachael:                       16:15               Yeah.

Alan:                            16:17               Do you think about the people while you’re cooking, or are you just in the cooking zone?

Rachael:                       16:21               I can’t stand it when people ask me what my favorite meal is, because anybody that cooks for a living, or anybody that really loves cooking, you’re never cooking for yourself. You’re always cooking for the person … you’re thinking of them when you’re making that food. If I sit home just by myself, and I’m not cooking for my mom, or my husband, I make something very simple, beans and greens, you know, white beans and some escarole and some chicken broth. Or I’ll make a sandwich or something. Or scrambled eggs I love and you can mix in anything in the fridge.

What makes me excited about cooking is who I’m cooking for. The point of cooking … another way that food communicates, it fills your soul, it’s a really kind of a spiritual, it’s almost like a meditation. And to make that the most complete is to cook for someone else, to see that look, it’s like when a kid opens a present they really want versus the underwear, or the socks, or the pajamas, you know that face when they open a box and they’re like, “Oh yeah, love that,” you know what I mean?

Alan:                            17:21               Yeah.

Rachael:                       17:22               But when they open something wonderful it’s like … when you cook for people, you’re going for that every time. You want to see, even if it’s a scrambled egg or a grilled cheese, you want them to take a bite and just be able to see on their face … I can’t stand not seeing the first bite if people come over to dinner. Even if I’m still doing nine things, I have to just peek in and make sure that that first bite gets that look.







Alan:                            17:48               So how do you handle this, nowadays, everybody’s got a different routine, different regimen. Around the table, this one-

Rachael:                       17:48               You educate yourself, yep.

Alan:                            17:55               Can’t eat fat, this one can only eat fat, this one can’t eat vegetables, this one can only eat-

Rachael:                       18:00               Well my mother would not have dealt with that back in the day. My mother did not and would not understand pescatarian, vegetarian, vegan and all of that.

Alan:                            18:00               Yeah.

Rachael:                       18:08               I try and educate myself, and there are people in my life that I deeply love and respect that over the years have made moral decisions about becoming a vegan or a vegetarian. And some people that truly have physical ailments and they literally cannot eat gluten.

Alan:                            18:25               Yeah.

Rachael:                       18:25               And I get that. And I have had to educate myself as to how to cook that way.

On the other hand, there’s people that are just kind of fussy, or it’s chic for them. And-

Alan:                            18:36               So you cook for them but you resent it.

Rachael:                       18:38               Yeah, I have to tell you the truth, I don’t invite them to my house.

Alan:                            18:40               Oh, because I was going to say-

Rachael:                       18:41               If I think that they’re only doing a put on, or they’re doing it because it’s trendy, I would be happy to meet them for a cocktail, but I’m picky about who comes to my home. I don’t mind-

Alan:                            18:49               So if you happen to be cooking for somebody who you don’t like as much as the other person you’re cooking for at the same time, how do you … do you cook differently? You cook more-

Rachael:                       18:59               I don’t bring people to my home I don’t want to cook for. My grandpa was like this too. I guess I’m my grandpa’s daughter or something, or grandpa’s little girl, because grandpa made wine and he had different barrels, right? And he would grade them five to number one. Barrel number one was for close family, special occasions, and people that he really, really loved. And it went all the way down to basically … not good wine. And you could always tell what he thought of someone-

Alan:                            19:30               By which barrel he would-

Rachael:                       19:33               By which barrel. Exactly.

Alan:                            19:33               So you’d be watching him as a kid-

Rachael:                       19:33               Exactly.

Alan:                            19:33               To see which barrel is grandpa getting.

Rachael:                       19:34               You know, my first word was vino because grandpa got sick of chasing the Similac across the room. My mom kept us all on formula, she didn’t breastfeed, she’s a tiny little lady. And she just … she was like, “This is painful and no thank you.” So we were all brought up on formula.

Alan:                            19:50               So he gave you vino instead of formula?

Rachael:                       19:52               So he got sick of chasing the formula bottle, because I would throw, literally chuck the bottle across the room out of my crib. So he got fed up with it. So he started taking the bottle and filling it with water and adding a little of his fancy wine. And he would hold up my baba, and go, “Vino, vino. Vino, vino.” So there’s a little Polaroid of me as a child in a highchair, one of those hook on ones that are illegal now because they kill children-

Alan:                            20:19               Oh, this whole story is illegal.

Rachael:                       20:20               Yeah. And it has my hand reaching up in the air and it says, “Rachael’s first word: vino, vino,” I thought I was asking for my baba. But it looks like I’m making a toast at a big party. “Vino!” You know?

Alan:                            20:36               That’s so different.

Rachael:                       20:36               Everybody thought I was a good baby, but really I was just bombed. I had really rosy cheeks, and I was the life of the party.

Alan:                            20:47               It’s just so different from one of my grandsons, whose first two words that he ever put together, because his mother didn’t like to cook, so the first two words he put together were, “Eat out.”

Rachael:                       21:00               That’s … I got one that’s really funny, it’ll crack you up. My little nephew, little Andy, it’s just like the Goodfellas movie, everybody in the family for generations is John or Andy. My husband, my husband’s brother, my father-in-law, everybody’s John or Andy, it’s ridiculous. It’s just like Goodfellas, right, at their wedding scene.

So anyway, little Andy, his first two words, no joke, scotch and boobs.

Alan:                            21:27               Scotch and boobs?

Rachael:                       21:28               Scotch and boobs, he liked his mom’s boobs.

Alan:                            21:28               Yeah.

Rachael:                       21:30               And my husband John, his nickname’s Johnny Walker because he loves scotch so much, he used to take his fingers, dip them in the scotch glass, and put them in the kid’s mouth so he’d stop crying.

Alan:                            21:42               Oh my gosh.

Rachael:                       21:42               So the kid learned scotch and boobs before anything else.

Alan:                            21:45               That beats eat out.


Rachael:                       21:49               But kid was born in the right family, I’ve got to tell you.

Alan:                            21:54               How did these kids turn out? Well I see how you turned out, okay.

Rachael:                       21:56               Little Andy is awesome, and what I loved about him when he became a toddler, my dog is a pit bull. And when he was a toddler, he would ride my pit bull like it was a horse. And they would roll around and just keep each other company for hours. I think my dog thought he was another puppy. And he’s just such … he’s a riot now. Now he’s a little young man, and you know, he’s delightful. How could you not be delightful if your first words are scotch and boobs, and your first playmate is a pit bull? Like that’s a fun kid. That’s a cool kid. That kid knows how to roll, literally, with a pit bull.

Alan:                            22:36               Tell me, I want to hear some more about how you communicate about food. For instance, seems to me one of the most basic things, one of the most important things that we communicate with are directions, like how to get to my house.

Rachael:                       22:53               Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Alan:                            22:54               How to cook a meatloaf. Do you … people give directions in the worst possible way. I know somebody who said once, “Take this certain road, go until you think you’ve gone too far, and then turn left.”

Rachael:                       23:10               That sounds like all of my neighbors, I live way up in the mountains, so that’s actually … go until you go past the big thing, you’ll see the thing on the right, and then make your second left after that thing.

Alan:                            23:19               So how do you deliver a recipe?

Rachael:                       23:23               I’m very specific about this. Very specific. I’ve written over 20 cookbooks, and I think the reason my cookbooks were successful over the years is because I write in freehand equivalents. Marcella Hazan said, “To put measurements to a cook is to … a cage is to a bird.” It’s like putting a bird in a cage.

So I try and write so that people understand the feeling of cooking. I write a tablespoon of olive oil, or one turn of the pan. I write one teaspoon, or a third of a palm full.

Alan:                            23:58               Oh.

Rachael:                       23:58               And I teach that way on the show. A third of a palm full of this, I never use measuring equipment on the show, unless we’re baking, you have to for certain things. But largely, I write like I’m telling a story and chitchatting.

Alan:                            24:10               Yeah.

Rachael:                       24:11               And when I write for the magazine, or for the books, I always put a headnote, there has to be some story there. Anybody can cook, really. You can teach anyone to cook to some degree.

Alan:                            24:21               Yeah.

Rachael:                       24:22               What makes people want to cook, I think, different authors’ food is the story that they’re telling. And there are different types of chefs. There are some chefs and cooks that write books, and it’s aspirational. It’s the best or the most beautiful, right? I write accessible. I write food that I know … I write different food for my family than I write for the TV show. I do some things at home I would probably never do on the TV because they’re too labor intensive, or maybe there’s a quirky ingredient. I try and write to make people feel successful about themselves in the kitchen. That’s the part I want to communicate, is that you’ll feel better if you do this a little more often. It’ll make you happy. It’ll fill up your soul, you’ll feel good about yourself, you’ll spend less money, you’ll be healthier, you’ll just feel better if you cook.

So I try and write to make people excited about painting the picture in their head when they read the food. I want them to see in their heads themselves doing it, and, “Oh my god, I can totally do this!”

Alan:                            24:22               Yeah.

Rachael:                       25:31               I want them to get excited before they ever walk into the kitchen.

Alan:                            25:35               Just mechanically, do you have an order in which you tell people about how to-

Rachael:                       25:41               Yes.

Alan:                            25:41               Cook a thing?

Rachael:                       25:42               You write a recipe in the order that you use the ingredients, or at least I do. And you write the method in the way that makes the most sense for pockets of time. While this thing is moving forward, you could be doing this thing over here.

Alan:                            25:57               So-

Rachael:                       25:57               And I always write everything. I draw … I have a furniture line, I draw the pictures for the furniture in my notebook. Every single recipe I’ve ever written for the television show, everything I’ve ever cooked in my entire house, everything I write for the magazine, we do 180 of these a year,all of those thousands of things started with pencil and paper. I have to write with pencil and paper first, or I can’t see it in my head. I don’t know what that is. But I sleep, literally, next to my bed are pencils and paper. Everything I’ve done is in a composition notebook, for decades and decades. It’s all over my cell or my house.

Alan:                            26:37               Do you wake up having solved cooking problems?

Rachael:                       26:39               Yes, absolutely, I cook in my head constantly. Like people write music. Or I doodle in my head. I also draw a lot in my head, that’s why I design furniture and cookware and stuff, I see it in my head first and then I put it on paper, and then I could put it into … translate it into a computer and send it wherever it has to go.

Alan:                            26:54               I’m always interested in new kinds of chairs, did you ever design a chair?

Rachael:                       26:58               Many, you’re sitting in one.

Alan:                            26:59               No kidding?

Rachael:                       27:00               All of the furniture in here is all mine.

Alan:                            27:02               No kidding?

Rachael:                       27:03               I love that one, that’s from my Austin collection.

Alan:                            27:04               Yeah.

Rachael:                       27:05               It’s like a 70s chair, isn’t that cool?

Alan:                            27:07               Yeah, very, and it looks comfortable.

Rachael:                       27:08               Yeah, it really is. It’s sassy.

Alan:                            27:10               It looks like it’s skis, sleds.

Rachael:                       27:12               Isn’t it? It’s sexy, it’s very 70s, I love that.

Alan:                            27:12               Yeah.

Rachael:                       27:15               That’s from my Austin collection. And that giant ottoman, that’s mine, you can entertain on it, sit on eat, eat dinner off of it. It’s really cool, isn’t it?

Alan:                            27:22               It’s great.

Rachael:                       27:23               Yeah, I doodle all of that stuff.

Alan:                            27:25               So did you-

Rachael:                       27:26               I like all of the-

Alan:                            27:27               Did you do this as a kid? Did you-

Rachael:                       27:28               Always. My mother used to say to me, “Why is everything you draw female? Like the horsey, he has a bag, and ducky has a bag, and don’t you like boys? And why do you never draw them male?” And I’m like, “What are you talking about? First of all, that’s just a fish. Or that is a giraffe, or whatever. And those people, that’s clearly a man, and that’s clearly a woman.”

Alan:                            27:55               But they both have handbags.

Rachael:                       27:57               And she said, “But why are they carrying a purse?” I said, “That’s not a purse, that’s where they keep their pencil and paper.” I was so frustrated and she didn’t get it.

Alan:                            27:57               She needed to ask you more questions instead of assuming things.

Rachael:                       28:09               Yes, exactly. I was so pissed that she thought my artwork was that crap too.

Alan:                            28:11               But all your artwork, you were designing furniture at that early age.

Rachael:                       28:16               I’ve always drawn things. I just … I don’t know, I doodle. And when something doesn’t work, like the first thing I designed for the kitchen was a set of pots, an eight quart pot and a five quart pot, like a brother and sister pot that were ovals, instead of round, because I had this tiny little stove that wasn’t as big as a normal stove, and I could never put two round pots next to each other on the stove. I had this little, old … and only three of the burners worked. And I could never make pasta sauce and pasta at the same time, it drove me insane.

So I drew on a piece of paper, if I had an oval skillet that was this deep, and it had a lid and it could go in and out of the oven, and if had two handles on it, I could roast in it, I could cook soups, and stews, and pastas. And because it was oval instead of round, I could angle it on the stove. And if I had a deeper pot, I could make 12 ears of corn, or three pounds of spaghetti if I was cooking for a crowd. Or I could put in a giant pork roast, or I could put a standing rib roast in it. So if I had these two pans and they could go on the stove, or in the oven, and I had just those two pans, if I wanted to make a grilled cheese, I could make it in the five quart, if I wanted to make one steak I can make it in there. But if I wanted to make cioppino, or soup, or stew, or chili, I could also make it in there.

If I want to make food for an army, I could make it in this one. If I only had those two pans, I wouldn’t need anything else except a colander and a knife, right? So I drew them on a paper towel.

Alan:                            29:40               Wait, they didn’t shelve pans like this?

Rachael:                       29:41               Never, I designed them, they’re mine. I made them up. So I drew them on a paper towel, and I gave them to my now husband, at then boyfriend, and I said, “I have to work, I can’t go, you’ve got to go to the fancy food show. Go find some pot and pan people, and show them this and see if anybody wants my pans.”

Alan:                            30:00               Whoa.

Rachael:                       30:01               So my husband went like, you know, door to door and my favorite was a company called Meyer, they had this hard anodized that’s way tougher than stainless steel, it’s nonstick, it conducts heat really evenly. You have to have a really sturdy construction because it’s oval, you need the whole pan to stay boiling.

Alan:                            30:21               The heat is coming-

Rachael:                       30:21               Right, exactly.

Alan:                            30:21               Up through the center-

Rachael:                       30:21               So you have to have-

Alan:                            30:21               You’ve got to get the heat to spread.

Rachael:                       30:22               Right, so, right, so it has to be like a really sturdy pot.

Alan:                            30:25               Yeah.

Rachael:                       30:25               So-

Alan:                            30:26               So were you already famous before you-

Rachael:                       30:28               No, I had just started at Food Network, but I mean I just started. I mean, I had a job.

Alan:                            30:34               So you really had to sell these pans.

Rachael:                       30:35               I had a job, but it wasn’t like I was woo! You know, it was like okay, she’s employed, maybe they’ll be interested kind of thing.

Alan:                            30:35               Yeah, yeah.

Rachael:                       30:43               So he went and they thought it was pretty cool, and they took a meeting, and I drew some more stuff, and we’ve been working together ever since. Now we have … we’ve made … not me, like the brand has made about a billion dollars.

Alan:                            30:56               Whoa.

Rachael:                       30:57               It’s incredible. We have hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of [inaudible 00:30:59.] All kinds of different products. But it all started with drawings. And so now, I took that experience and I went to furniture people, and I said, “What the heck, I was totally unqualified for that job, let me see if the furniture industry wants to work with me too.”

And our first year selling furniture we got nominated for all these furniture awards.

Alan:                            31:23               This is amazing.

Rachael:                       31:23               Like the furniture Oscars.

Alan:                            31:25               Wow.

Rachael:                       31:25               And every else’s name has all these letters behind it.

Alan:                            31:28               Yeah, yeah.

Rachael:                       31:29               Because they’re all famous designers, and architects and stuff. And it just says, “Rachael Ray”.

Alan:                            31:35               Nobody has that in front of it.

Rachael:                       31:38               But it’s great, and now we are the largest launch in American furniture since Jeffrey Bean’s line, like decades ago. Crazy.



Alan:                            31:45               So what else do you design? Do you design clothing?

Rachael:                       31:47               I … funny you should say that Alan Alda, because I just started designing accessories and they come out this March, this spring. Handbags.

Alan:                            31:47               So like what’s an accessory?

Rachael:                       31:57               Handbags and belts from the totally sustainable vegetable dyed natural leathers. In Italy there’s a very small group of people left, and they’re like a little co-op. There’s very few people that are left on the planet earth that do this. It’s an apprentice program, passed from one generation to the next, and it’s a completely sustainable circle of life, it’s beautiful, absolutely no chemicals are used. Animals grow up on a farm, they run around, they’re used for food, obviously. But then they’re naturally tanned, no chemicals used, dyed any color in the rainbow with only vegetable dyes, and all of the byproduct can go right back into the earth, not contaminants, no chemicals whatsoever.

So I wanted to take these leathers that are only being used for the world’s most expensive handbags, bags that cost thousands of dollars, which I think is insane. And we went there, in Italy, to meet these families, to say, “What’s the best price you can work with us on? And we want to make your products more accessible, therefore you’ll be in business longer, since you’re the last few people on the planet that do this. This is something for your next generation, and the next generation.” We want to make these bags, but more for the people. We want to charge a couple of hundred bucks instead of several thousand dollars.

So our bags are between two and 500, instead of 500 to 15,000.

Alan:                            33:21               [inaudible 00:33:21]

Rachael:                       33:21               Yeah, it’s insane what people spend on handbags.

Alan:                            33:23               What do you have left to put in the bag?

Rachael:                       33:25               I know, right? Exactly. And we’re working on canvas, and because they’re natural, and vegetable tanned, you can carry them in the rain, nothing happens to them.

Alan:                            33:34               Whoa, no kidding.

Rachael:                       33:35               Like the bags still look good, even in the rain.

Alan:                            33:37               Wow.

Rachael:                       33:37               You don’t have to put special sprays on them, or hide them away, or … it’s so great. And it’s really exciting because like with our furniture lines, we do everything we can do in America, we do in America. Like we have over 600 and something upholsters now, and they didn’t have enough upholsters that worked in their factory in the Carolinas, we brought back people that were put into early retirement, and now they’re training another generation.

Alan:                            33:37               Oh, that’s great.

Rachael:                       34:03               Of apprenticeship.

Alan:                            34:04               It’s like what you do with the food, it’s more than just eating.

Rachael:                       34:07               You have to look at the whole circle of it.




Alan:                            34:09               It’s got ramifications. It’s just wonderful.We talk a lot about improvising, and while we were talking I was wondering, when you were talking about measuring. Is that … does that tie in with how much you feel free to improvise when you cook?

Rachael:                       34:28               Yes, but I also want people to make that recipe their own when they make it.

Alan:                            34:28               Yeah.

Rachael:                       34:35               I don’t want it to be identical to mine, I want it to be similar, but I want them to get used to-

Alan:                            34:40               To-

Rachael:                       34:41               Tasting the food and saying, “I would’ve put more chili powder in that, Rachael Ray.”

Alan:                            34:45               Right, right.

Rachael:                       34:46               “I would’ve done this differently.” And that’s what I love after being in this business for so long, a couple of decades now, is that people will stop me in grocery stores, or at the movie theater or something, and say, “I make that for my husband, but I do it with this, or I added that.” And I get so excited, I’m like, “Oh my god, that’s amazing, I’m going to try it that way.”

Alan:                            35:07               And you’ve helped them be creative.

Rachael:                       35:08               I love that, that’s what’s so fun about it. And that’s why I love getting kids in the kitchen. You get so many great ideas when you watch children cook, because they know no rules.

Alan:                            35:17               Yeah.

Rachael:                       35:17               They have no rules. They’ll put peanut butter in a pasta sauce and you’ll be like, “Well that’s delicious!” They just do such crazy stuff, and it makes me so excited.

Alan:                            35:29               So look, I wish we could spend more time, but our time is coming to an end.

Rachael:                       35:35               That’s such a drag.

Alan:                            35:36               I know, but meanwhile-

Rachael:                       35:37               Can we do a part two?

Alan:                            35:40               We already got that.

Rachael:                       35:43               Alan’s like, “Rachael, just shut up. Say goodnight, Gracie.”

Alan:                            35:45               No, but before we go, can we do our seven quick questions-

Rachael:                       35:49               Sure.

Alan:                            35:49               That invite seven quick answers?

Rachael:                       35:51               Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Alan:                            35:51               Rapid fire questions.

Rachael:                       35:52               Yeah, people have tried this for decades, Alan Alda, just letting you know.

Alan:                            35:56               I know, I know.

Rachael:                       35:56               Hasn’t worked yet. There’s nothing that’s a short answer that comes out of this big mouth, but I’ll try. I’ll try.

Alan:                            36:01               So these are questions mainly vaguely associated with communicating.

Rachael:                       36:06               Okay.

Alan:                            36:07               What do you wish you really understood?

Rachael:                       36:11               Languages. I’ve been studying French, Danish, and Italian forever, and I don’t feel fluent in any.

Alan:                            36:18               With me it’s Chinese. What do you wish other people understood about you?

Rachael:                       36:23               I think they know far too much about me, they probably would love me to be quiet. I think it would surprise people how quiet I am when I’m not at work.

Alan:                            36:30               Ah.

Rachael:                       36:30               Very quiet.

Alan:                            36:31               What’s the strangest question anyone’s ever asked you?

Rachael:                       36:34               I don’t think about questions as being strange at all. I really enjoy getting all of them, to tell you the truth, nothing comes to mind. I like being asked questions, I think it’s fun.

Alan:                            36:46               Okay, here’s a question.

Rachael:                       36:47               Okay.

Alan:                            36:48               How do you stop a compulsive talker?

Rachael:                       36:50               Oh. Feed them. They have to shut up long enough to chew or they’re going to die. In which case they’ll shut up also.

Alan:                            37:02               Okay.

Rachael:                       37:02               Works either way.

Alan:                            37:03               Yeah, right. Is there anyone for whom you just can’t feel empathy?

Rachael:                       37:08               Yes, but I’m not rude enough to say.

Alan:                            37:10               Okay.

Rachael:                       37:12               It’s an extremely short list.

Alan:                            37:14               How do you like to deliver bad news, in person, on the phone, or by carrier pigeon?

Rachael:                       37:21               I don’t like to have to give anyone bad news, but of course I would want to be there in person, and I think it should be accompanied with a very deep embrace.

Alan:                            37:27               And a meatball.

Rachael:                       37:29               And a meatball. Meatballs make pretty much anything better.

Alan:                            37:33               Okay, last question. What, if anything, would make you end a friendship?

Rachael:                       37:42               The people that I think disliked me the most in life I still wanted to be their friend, quite frankly. I don’t think I give up on people. I never have. I don’t know what would end a friendship, that person, I guess. Just stops calling.

Alan:                            38:00               Well, I’ll call you later.

Rachael:                       38:01               I love you.

Alan:                            38:02               You’re great.

Rachael:                       38:03               I love you.

Alan:                            38:03               Thank you so much.


This has been Clear + Vivid, at least I hope so.


My thanks the sponsors of this episode. All the income from the ads you hear go to the Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. Just by listening to this podcast, you’re contributing to the better communication of science. So, thank you.



Rachael Ray is vivacious and energetic and she has this way of brightening everyone around her. She’s always thinking, always moving, and always doing, which makes her one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met.


And not only does she have a good story for everything, which I love, she also has a recipe too – Andshe really thinks about how to pair food and people to inspire conversation. That’s an art in itself!


Rachael’s Show, the Rachael Ray Show, is nationally syndicated, so visit www.RachaelRayShow.comfor details about where and when to watch. You can also find all of her cookbooks, recipes, good advice, and much more on her web site.


This episode was produced by Graham Chedd with help from our associate producer, Sarah Chase. Our sound engineer is Dan Dzula, our Tech Guru is Allison Coston, our publicist is Sarah Hill.


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For more details about Clear + Vivid, and to sign up for my newsletter, please visit alanalada.com.


You can also find us on Facebook and Instagram at “Clear and Vivid” and I’m on Twitter @alanalda.


Thanks for listening. Bye bye!