February 2007

Jennifer Johnson

magazine whore

Everyday with Rachael Ray

I’ve never really gotten into the celebrity magazine trend. I just don’t have the desire to spend four dollars to find out how Oprah stays slim or how Martha Stewart arranges flowers. But, when I noticed Rachael Ray had one, I resigned myself to the idea that soon every celebrity will find their way onto the rack next to her. I can’t wait for Paris Hilton’s magazine full of tips on dressing your dog for maximum humiliation and perfecting the art of the sex video, can you?

But, I digress. Let’s talk Everyday with Rachael Ray. Full disclosure: I realize that this isn’t the hip thing to admit, but I find Thirty Minute Meals (Rachael Ray’s Food Network magnum opus where she cooks a meal in thirty minutes, real time -- hence the name) enjoyable. I have a grudging respect for someone who can maintain that level of perkiness while cooking a meal at hyperspeed. I guess that puts me squarely in the target audience for this magazine.

It’s hard to extricate Everyday with Rachael Ray from Rachael Ray the Food Network icon. In fact, I’m not sure if we’re even supposed to. The magazine reads like a Cliffs Notes version of her amalgamated television programming. It feels like a collection of leftovers. Perhaps she has an intern follow her around and take note of the random restaurants and “tasty tips” that are somehow edited from her hours of daily television coverage.

The magazine isn’t horrible. In fact, if it was only trying to be a food magazine, it might even be moderately successful. The food sections are the best parts of the magazine with clear instructions and interesting recipes. I can see how the pull-out seven day menu would be useful and the “How To” side bars explaining the techniques in the recipes are a nice touch. They include clear, step-by-step photos and instructions for techniques like how to roast papayas. Sure, the may not be skills you need everyday, but it does make the recipes more accessible to those who may not consider themselves skilled in the kitchen.

But, this magazine isn’t a food magazine -- it’s about the Rachael Ray lifestyle: food, travel, work, kids, etc. It’s for the busy woman who’s trying to have it all. After all, what woman in suburban America wouldn’t want to be Rachael Ray? She can plop a meal on the table in 30 minutes and has a job where she gets to travel the world and eat great food. She’s America’s current arbiter of middle-class taste, dividing the world of casual dining between the yum-o’s and the yuck-o’s. Hell, I’ll take the job.

However, I went from feeling a bit jealous of her to wanting to strangle her when I hit page 139. Page 139 features the “Ask Rachael” section. No, it’s not an advice column (although I am intrigued by the idea of Rachael Ray trying to, say, help a woman save her marriage. Would she call on the healing properties of a bacon cheeseburger and a plate of “smashed” potatoes?). It’s our opportunity to get to know Rachael better! Oh boy. Readers send in questions like “How do you keep your energy level so high?” (A: “Caffeine. Way too much Caffeine.”) and Rachael’s answers theoretically bring us all a little closer to understanding the woman behind the mystique. It was all innocuous enough until the following exchange made me throw the magazine across the room.

Q: Was there one moment when it really hit you that you’d become a star?
A: Am I a star? Really? I don’t think so. I’m a burger flipper and a Chatty Cathy!

Seriously. Okay, I get that Rachael Ray is trying to cultivate this “I’m the girl next door, I’m busy too, I understand how hard it is to be domestic when you work all day” image that we can all relate to. But, newsflash, when you have a syndicated talk show, eight bestselling cook books, a vanity magazine and a billion hours of programming on the Food Network each week, you’re probably a star and you probably know it. It’s time to cut the crap, Rachael. You’re not fooling anyone.

This exchange encapsulated the problems I had with this magazine. It feels a little fake. Sort of like it was written by the brownnoser in your office who always “just happens” to have a copy of the Wall Street Journal sticking out of his briefcase or the mother in your daughter’s class who always whips up lavender-infused chocolate cupcakes from scratch for the bake sale when everyone else just barely manages the Betty Crocker mix. It’s the person you love to hate, in magazine form. My advice? Read it when you need an easy recipe in a pinch and toss the rest.