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Rachael Ray Signs Books, Saves Puppies, and Sees David Letterman's Point

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[Photos: Paula Forbes/]

On December 14, food celebrity/talk show host/cookbook author/dog food purveyor/Christmas music fan Rachael Ray stopped by the Book People bookstore in Austin, Texas to sign her new book, Rachael Ray's Look + Cook, hand off a giant check to a local dog rescue group, and give a bunch of interviews. I hung out with her during the signing and we chatted about the future of print cookbooks, the White House food initiatives, and how she kindasortamaybe agrees with David Letterman that food television is excessive.

The people who go to a Rachael Ray book signing are pretty much who you think they would be: mother-daughter sets of all ages, men with towering stacks of books doing one-stop Christmas shopping, older couples who repeatedly thank Ray for making their husband's/wife's cooking bearable. There was a man in a Judas Priest t-shirt who gave Ray rock 'n roll devil horns, or, this being Austin, possibly the "hook 'em" hand gesture for the University of Texas. Either way, she was delighted.

Halfway through the book signing, Ray's husband, John Cusimano, sneaked up behind her and scared her into calling him a jackass in front of a little kid. It was kind of endearing. (Ray, clearly embarrassed, apologized.)

In between the hugs from small children, the clearly-rehearsed compliments, and the gift-giving (family Christmas cards, a mix CD, a Starbucks gift package), I did get to ask Ray a few questions.

So tell me about your new book.
I think this is probably our largest value for someone in a multimedia cookbook. I tried to keep it exciting for the booksellers and people who work in print in that every single step is sort of a paint-by-numbers of food. Every step is depicted in the pictures as well as in the steps. I did the styling myself with a couple of buddies of mine who I've been working with for years. All of the photography is natural light. I think it provides a lot of value for hard copy book buyers.

And then for people who like streaming video, additional web content it's really, really cool because we've got an online companion and you can literally, virtually cook along with me. Five cameras on my set with no stops and no commercial breaks. There's a little clock in the corner to show how much time has passed.

Well that's really interesting, because there was a Salon piece recently in which they found that timed recipes are often wrong.
That's why I really thought it was important to do this section, live time, no cuts, so you can actually see the whole thing start to finish. In fact, the shortest one was fourteen minutes. It was the cornmeal crusted cod, with bacon leeks and tomatoes with it [note: it's actually halibut]. Guys that have been filming me for ten years, they're used to cutting to break up the acts and rehearse the movement of the next act and get the food in the pan or off the stove. Rehearse it so the director knows where I'm going. So it's the first time we've ever shot like that, in one fluid motion, and guys that have been filming me for like ten years, they would stop and wouldn't believe it. And it really was exciting for me too, because I never get to film like that.

So the development of the web component was done alongside writing the book?
You know, I'm always trying to make the next book a little more forward thinking than the last, and I really wanted to embrace the fact that a lot of people have iBooks. I wanted to make it cool for everybody.

Do you see people moving towards using ebooks for recipes and away from the print?
Yes, I do. Well, I'm trying to keep it really exciting for the print, with the magazine too, so we'll have a lot of cool web content but still keep the paper magazine really interesting. They're companions, and I think that's the way you have to do it, you have to keep the web content and the actual printed materials both exciting. You can't just ignore one or the other.

You've been involved in the White House food initiatives and the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act, which puts money into the school lunch program, among other things. Do you have ongoing involvement in that now that the act has been signed?
Yes! Big, big day. I'm very excited. I would've rather have seen ten cents a kid, not six, but I'll take it. You know, first thing in thirty years that we've done for them. So I think we'll see a lot of improvements there. I really think it'll help us get a leg up on the whole obesity issue. You have to have a level playing field to eradicate hunger, to provide good nutrition for the kids, at the same time you have to put more nutritious food into the schools for the kids who are suffering from obesity. It's also $40 million over ten years to get local foods into the school system. We're so proud. In fact, the other day I did a press conference with [Agriculture] Secretary Vilsack...he's like my Bono. Fabulous, I love him.

David Letterman has recently been going off on food personalities against food television and the "culture of abundance." In that context, where do you see the future of food television going?
You know, I have to tell you, I see his point. The last time I was on Letterman, he was ranting at me about cupcakes and I was like I get it! You know? We are a country of plenty, there are so many people that are so hungry, and the world is suffering, and the shelters are full, and the food banks are full of hungry people, and it is kind of absurd to look at a television show that is entirely about cupcakes.

On the other hand, I wouldn't have a job if people didn't tune in. And a lot of people just love to bake, and, you know, families love to make cupcakes. All things in moderation. I think food TV is broad enough that there should be something for everyone. My sister for one is a fantastic baker, and she loves cupcake shows. I hope that it stays as broad as it is, something for everyone.

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