Rachael Ray became famous for showing Americans how to prepare a meal in 30 minutes. But these days, her life is more like a 24-hour marathon.
Ray just launched the 17th season of her perennially popular talk show, where guests range from film stars to fellow celebrity chefs. She’s also behind numerous products and product lines, covering everything from cookware and furniture to her Nutrish brand of pet food. And she’s active with various charitable causes — she has her own foundation — and has particularly championed efforts to improve student nutrition through her work with the New York City Department of Education.
Oh, and Ray still stays busy on the culinary circuit: Once again, she’ll be hosting her Burger Bash, an event she created 15 years ago that features top chefs creating all kinds of outrageous burgers, at the New York City Wine & Food Festival on Oct. 13.
MarketWatch caught up recently with the 54-year-old Ray by phone while she was on a break from taping her talk show. We asked her about her busy career, her life in New York (she’s a big fan of the city’s convenience stores or bodegas) and her thoughts on personal finance. Here is what she shared (the conversation has been edited and condensed).
MarketWatch: You started with cooking shows but you’ve now built a virtual empire that includes so many different things, especially product lines. What has driven you to grow your brand and business?
Ray: I hate the word empire, it’s so creepy. We started the brand largely to drive the business into philanthropic measures. I wanted to give back to the world and food is the way I do that. So I thought if I had pots and pans and food products that could generate income, we could then do good works with (that money). That was the beginning of what is now the foundation we have today.
We give to all kinds of programs, large and small, for humans, cats, dogs, llamas, three-legged goats. I consider it the most important part of my work. We’re all here such a short time. I wanted my life to matter more than ratings or popularity.
MarketWatch: Talk about your efforts to improve nutrition in the schools and what inspires that.
Ray: I find it so ironic and very tragic that we all fight so much about healthcare costs and the easiest way to control all of this is to improve the health of all of the children in the country. And the easiest way to do that is by improving their school food and access to food, period. It’s the only level playing field there is to fight obesity, bad grades, children not showing up (to school). Children will show up and they’ll be ready to learn and they’ll be more attentive if they’re given good food and time to exercise.
““If you’ve got one or two things going on with a burger, that’s great. But I’ve had some burgers…that have like nine things going on and the burger itself gets lost.””
MarketWatch: You’ve got another Burger Bash event coming up at the food festival in New York So we’ve got to ask: What is the secret to making a good burger?
Ray: There are several actually. I’m not a purist in that there are a lot of people who say a burger can only be beef and that’s that. I do believe a burger can be made out of anything. My husband actually loves Impossible (burgers) and he’s a meat eater.
I like cooking (burgers) a la plancha instead of over a grill grate, even if I’m cooking outdoors. I like a flat surface. And I like patties to always be a little thinner at the center than the edge for even cooking obviously, so it gets that nice crust on each side.
And I think less is more sometimes. If you’ve got one or two things going on with a burger, that’s great. But I’ve had some burgers at the Bash that have like nine things going on and the burger itself gets lost.
““I’m terrible at managing my own money…So my best piece of advice is if you are like me, make sure that you have the soundest advisers you can find and don’t fight with them””
MarketWatch: What’s a good piece of financial advice you can offer?
Ray: I’m terrible at managing my own money. And I give away probably more than I keep. So my best piece of advice is if you are like me, make sure that you have the soundest advisers you can find and don’t fight with them. Listen to them and do what they say.
MarketWatch: What’s something you hate spending money on?
Ray: Overpriced things for myself. I love spending money on people. If I can see someone have joy or change their day or give them a special moment in life, that means much more to me than a diamond or a car or a thing. I don’t like a lot of extravagant things for myself.
MarketWatch: What’s something you like to splurge on?
Ray: Food. I spend way too much money on food, but it never goes to waste. I overcook for everything. If I have two people over, I cook for 12. I’ll go into a marketplace or a grocery store or a bodega and I’ll be trying to buy one thing and I will get mesmerized and come out with eight or 14 things and then I have to go make five more dishes because I have all this other stuff I have to use. I should never take myself shopping.
MarketWatch: You go to bodegas?
Ray: There are several good ones in my neighborhood. I’m always shocked at the product (quality and variety). I’m like, “Where did they find this?”
MarketWatch: Do you ever think about retirement?
Ray: No, I don’t think about life that way at all. First of all, if you work in any sort of public space, people decide when you retire and that’s just that and you need to know that going in. (But) I like the feeling of work itself, it’s a physical and mental exercise. It makes me happy and I like to be a person of service. I’m going to Ukraine for the third time. I just don’t want the American people to forget about these people that I have come to love. So if I couldn’t work in what I do (now), I would just go do that work. I like being around people and I like looking them in the eye and understanding their experience and listening.
MarketWatch: What is your idea of the perfect meal?
Ray: I guess my idea of a perfect meal is anything I don’t have to cook for myself. I’m a very non-picky eater. I will literally eat anything. Really good scrambled eggs make me very happy.