In the Shondaland series Reclaiming Home, you’ll learn that home is more than the place to lay your head at night. It’s a space where families gather, memories form, and a sense of calm begins. From joy-sparking plants to aromas that illicit comfy feelings, the ways in which you can maximize and take ownership of your home are varied. So settle in, and let’s look at all the ways we make places and spaces our homes.
It’s been 20 years since Rachael Ray parlayed her local fame as a chef and TV personality in upstate New York into her first contract with the Food Network. And to say she’s come a long way in those two decades is an understatement about as big as her empire is today.
Her Emmy-winning daytime talk show, Rachael Rayhas been on the air for 16 seasons, and she has a magazine, Rachael Ray in Season, in addition to product lines for kitchenware, pets, home decor, and fashion. Tea New York Times best-selling author has released 28 books — the latest of which manages to be totally different than any she’s written before.
Ray started her newest cookbook, This Must Be the Place: Dispatches & Food From the Home Front, in 2020 when she and her husband, John Cusimano, were in quarantine at their home in Lake Luzerne, New York, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Her time upstate deeply resonated with her. “After hundreds of days up here, distanced from the people and city and life I love, I feel that I’m closer to the world — to viewers, readers, colleagues, and friends — than ever before,” she writes. “In the long months of 2020, I would come to know them all in a much deeper and in a more substantive way.”
The meaning of home certainly morphed and evolved for Ray and Cusimano. Home became a film studio, office space, and test kitchen, while Cusimano became Ray’s cameraman as they were shooting Rachael Ray on their iPhone. Encountering these unique issues day to day, Ray felt compelled to document the feelings of anxiety, fear, and loss that everyone around the world was experiencing simultaneously.
These feelings were compounded by additional losses: In 2020, their longtime house burned down in a massive fire caused by creosote buildup in their chimney. Luckily, no one was harmed in the fire. Then the couple had to say goodbye to their beloved 15-year-old dog Isaboo, who was battling cancer.
Ray’s thoughts about gratitude and home can be found in the essays sprinkled throughout the book, which also features more than 125 recipes for the dishes she was cooking up at the time for her show. “I tried to write recipes for food that would make people happy and also comfort them, especially during this difficult time,” she writes. “Over the year, I cooked well over four hundred meals, between feeding content to my audiences and feeding my family. I always say, you can’t make everybody happy at the same time on the same day, but maybe you can make them all happy within a year. I sure tried.” As a whole, This Must Be the Place serves as a time capsule of spells, chronicling the experiences, emotions, and flavors of this unique time in her life.
Shondaland sat down with Ray to talk about her new book, working with her husband, and how the pandemic has changed her.
CHELSEA GREENWOOD: How did this book project come about?
RACHAEL RAY: For the first time in my 53 years, the whole world was going through the same thing at the same time, and I wanted to reflect on what our family went through and the roller-coaster ride that it’s been.
CG: What did it feel like to open up about your life in such a personal way?
RR: I did that in my last book, Rachel Ray 50. That was a memoir about the first half of my life. This is a continuation of that memoir about the past two years.
CG: What are some of your favorite recipes from the book?
RR: This wasn’t about our family favorites. It’s about 125 recipes from the body of work that I’ve done during this pandemic. Three of my favorite recipes are the Sesame Mushroom Ramen, the Crab Fra Diavolo and Spaghetti, and the Shrimp and Chorizo Paella.
CG: The description of the book says that the pandemic changed your direction. How so?
RR: We became more intimate with our audience and our larger community. We’ve connected with people in new and very meaningful ways, and the transparency of our lives in this format was very liberating.
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CG: Why do you think so many people turned to cooking and baking during the pandemic? Why was that appealing?
RR: Well, when you are trapped inside your home, everybody has to redefine what that means. And they are focused on “I never got around to fixing this or cleaning that,” and they have more free time; therefore, they cook more. And now I think we all value our everyday lives more, and I think that is why so many people are living a hybrid life with less time in the office and more time at home.
CG: What is it like producing your show at home with your husband?
RR: John has gotten progressively better at it. But it will be weird transitioning from the guesthouse back into our rebuilt home. I feel like I am moving, and I feel like I am going to be working all over again in a new place.
CG: What is the key message you want to share with readers?
RR: We all lost so much this past year, but I found gratitude in a new definition of what the word “home” means — that it is a state of mind and a state of grace. It’s not about your stuff; it’s about if you have a life that you are proud of and people in your life that love you and care for you. That is the state of home.
Chelsea Greenwood is an award-winning lifestyle writer and editor whose work has been featured in InStyle, Teen Vogue, Self, Racked, vulnerability, Brit+Co, SheKnowsand Vice. Follow her on Twitter @cpgreenwood.
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