My problem with a carefully prepared, exquisitely served, subtly haunting mango chutney sauce is my problem with a long-legged, icy-eyed, stiletto-heeled, cold-hearted, viper-souled beauty. Sure, they both look great and taste great and impress friends and can transport a man into paroxysms of moaning pleasure. But when the fun’s over, what’s a man left with? A messy kitchen and precious hours sucked from his life. A depleted bank account and a mournful sense that the world is a bleak, desolate place. A date who’s now engaged to an investment banker. A longing for a simple cheeseburger, and understanding.
Which brings me to Rachael Ray. Yes, she does ads for Dunkin’ Donuts and Price Chopper. Yes, she says “Yum-o.” Yes, she abbreviates extra virgin olive oil to EVOO, which even a simple man burdened with a keen and painful yearning for life’s essential truths might find occasionally annoying. And no, she has neither the ample cleavage, husky voice, foreign-sounding name nor softcore je ne sais quoi of television cooking goddesses like Giada De Laurentiis or Padma Lakshmi. Rachael Ray might not even know what je ne sais quoi means. But isn’t that the point?
Rachael Ray looks like the kind of woman you could kick back on the couch with and watch a ball game. She seems like the kind of woman who’s not going to be spending mysterious, vexing hours getting ready to go to dinner. Rachael Ray has made millions cooking dinner in half an hour.
Here’s why I love Rachael Ray: She started out as a candy-counter girl at Macy’s. She says “ooooh” and “um” and “awesome,” and she rolls her eyes a lot. She admits that she can’t bake or make coffee, because both require precision and measuring. Instead of softcore appeal, she’s got soft-looking skin and a lot of energy, and she looks like she might have been chubby once upon a time, and formerly fat girls tend to like sex that much more. She has great teeth. She reminds me of a former girlfriend, who also tended toward softness and who loved to eat, and who once, when we were driving up the Taconic Steak Parkway, after we had stopped for a hamburger, started weeping (really), because, she said, “It just tastes so goddamn good!” Kelly said “mmm” and “awesome” a lot too.
I love Rachael Ray because I loved Donna Reed and Nellie Forbush and Marion the Librarian; because when it came to life’s hard choices, for me, there was never any choice at all. Betty hands down. Mary Ann without even thinking it over.
I know that Ray’s enormous success offends some. A friend tells me that her career represents “the triumph of mediocrity in America.” Women I know tell me that Ray is “plain” and “cheesy.” And to this, I say, so is meatloaf. I love meatloaf.
She’s rich now, of course, and probably doesn’t allow even her assistants to buy anything from Macy’s, which discourages me. And she’s married to a rock and roll musician, which I try not to think about. But doesn’t this country celebrate upward mobility? Doesn’t it revere grit and hard work? Isn’t this the land of the girl next door? Rachael Ray isn’t about sophistication or cool or elegance. She’s about simple appetite, and the feeding of it. Yum-o.