A recent cover of Parade, the insert magazine, featured food celebrity Sandra Lee, whom a friend describes as “the quintessential American; she embodies the best of this country. She was born into tough circumstances, and she made it all on her own.” Those circumstances include caring for her four siblings largely by herself since her divorced mother had mental health issues and was addicted to prescription drugs. The experiences toughened her, and now she is an unstoppable force.
To Leah Rozen’s credit, she does mention Anthony Bourdain’s famous line that Sandra Lee is the “frightening hell spawn of Kathie Lee and Betty Crocker” and writes that “a Kwanzaa cake she made was roundly derided.” In a TV Guide interview, Bourdain backtracked a bit but not because he changed his mind about Lee. He backtracked out of fear: “There was an incident with Sandra Lee when I ran into her [after criticizing her publicly]. It was deeply terrible. Don’t mess with her. I rarely feel uncomfortable, but she has a powerful force. I hate her works on this planet, but she is not someone to be dismissed, clearly.”
I was also reminded of an interview I did several years ago with Ted Allen, currently the host of Chopped on the Food Network. It was the summer of 2007 and we sat for a few hours over drinks at Bar Americain in midtown Manhattan. Allen (a former editor at Chicago magazine) was extremely insightful, funny, and very generous with his time—Queer Eye had just ended and he seemed relieved since, as he noted, some of his costars could get “a bit loud.” Our discussion was wide-ranging, but mostly about the cult of celebrity chefs. And at some point Allen was contrasting Rachael Ray’s shows with another program:
There’s one show on Food Network, I think it’s called Half Home Made, where this woman will take a head of lettuce or something, and then she’ll pour a can of cream of mushroom soup and pour it on there, and it’s like fooling your guests into thinking you cooked for us when you didn’t. Now that I think is disgusting. But I think that show is absolutely nauseating. I suppose it’s useful if you’re in a real hurry. But Rachael doesn’t really do that. Rachael will actually take a piece of chicken and throw it in a skillet with some olive oil and, you know, fresh parmesan on it, and it’s fast real food. There’s nothing wrong with helping people find food solutions when it’s good food.
Keep in mind that Allen was not yet full-time at the Food Network. And keep in mind there has never been a show on the Food Network called Half Home Made. Sandra Lee does have a show called Semi-Homemade Cooking.