Rags to Riches: Food Network Queen Rachel Ray

Long before the Oxford American Dictionary added "E.V.O.O." as a word, Rachel Ray was making her way in the world of food. Born Rachael Domenica Ray in Cape Cod, the Food Network star got her first exposure to cooking from her family. They owned and operated a chain of restaurants. She learned about cooking techniques from a maternal grandfather who grew and cooked everything his family ate, and about Louisiana cuisine from her father's side of the family. When Ray was 13, her parents divorced and her mother took a job as a food supervisor in upstate New York. Young Rachael worked as her mother's waitress. In her official biography, Ray notes, "My first vivid memory is watching mom in a restaurant kitchen..."

Real life inspiration...and a Really Big Break

Once she graduated college, Ray moved to New York City and took a job at a Macy's Marketplace candy counter. She was quickly promoted to manager of the Fresh Foods department. That opportunity exposed her to the world of gourmet foods and opened the door to Agata & Valentina; a prestigious gourmet marketplace she opened and managed. Ray has said spending time in gourmet and grocery stores observing how real people buy and use food inspires her cooking. It would not be long before that inspiration made her a wildly popular chef.

After four years in the city, Rachael Ray decided to return to Lake George where she held a series of pub, restaurants and store management jobs. While working as a food buyer and chef for a gourmet market, Ray began teaching a series of cooking classes to raise sales. One of the courses, "30-Minute Mediterranean Meals" soared in popularity. A CBS station started broadcasting the series. The weekly segment won her two regional Emmys and fostered a companion cookbook. Ray's first, it sold more than 100,000 copies over the holidays.

This success was only the beginning. A Today show producer heard her on an upstate New York radio show and invited her to appear on the morning program. She made such an impression that the Food Network offered her a contract the next day. From there the "30-Minute Meals" show and cookbook series was launched. "$40 A Day," appearances on "Iron Chef America," and an Oprah-endorsed talk show would soon follow. Ray's perky personality and camera-ready smile also made her a favorite spokesperson for such companies and Burger King and Dunkin' Donuts.

Not everyone is in love...

Despite being loved by time-crunched cooks across the nation, not everyone is in love with Rachel Ray. Some professional chefs and food writers disparage her use of simple ingredients rather than gourmet items. She admits that depending on how and whether you prep beforehand, her "30-Minute Meals" may take more than thirty minutes. She does not bake and admits taking shortcuts. Ray's desserts are often simple and uncooked items like ice cream sundaes, root beer floats, and store bought angel food cake dressed with store bought toppings. It is this simplicity, along with an oven mitt full of catchphrases like "E.V.O.O.", and "Oh my gravy!" that make Ray appeal to her viewers. While her detractors can have their say, keeping it sweet and simple has made Rachael Ray rich. And her popularity is showing no signs of waning. Coming soon to a cell phone to you, Rachael Ray's Recipes on the Run!