Rachael Ray's New Partnership Makes Cooking Easier And More Convenient Than Ever - Exclusive Interview

If you've been tempted to try a meal kit service in the past but can't quite decide which option might be best (out of the many, many options out there), you may want to give Home Chef a look — especially if you're a Rachael Ray fan. The queen of convenient cooking recently gave her stamp of approval to a series of exclusive Home Chef kits that include weekly Ray-written recipes that can be delivered to your door — along with all the pre-portioned ingredients you need to make each one — over the course of the next six months. The recipes range from casual, weeknight-ready meals like pub-style burgers on pretzel rolls to comforting fall favorites like wedding soup with turkey meatballs to more date-night-in-style recipes like tilapia piccata with lemon spaghetti.

But the partnership between Home Chef and Ray is more than a simple marketing opportunity. As Ray explained in an exclusive interview with Mashed, Home Chef aligns with the goals that Ray has been pushing for her entire career, like getting people into the kitchen and showing them that cooking doesn't need to be intimidating or difficult. She gave us her take on the collaboration, what her cooking life looks like lately, and the exciting things you can expect from her in the coming months.

Giving people a leg up in the kitchen

First of all, why partner with Home Chef? Why did you feel like this was something that would fit your brand?

Well, because they asked me to the dance. For years, I've had interviews about home [cooking] kits and what I thought about them, for obvious reasons. I cooked 30-minute meals for 20 years and still do, and we do slow and long cooking on all the other shows that I work on. But the whole dinner in a box delivered to your door with the ingredients all set for you — I always thought [that] was interesting for people. It serves a bunch of purposes.

For people that are not into cooking at all — and I know many of them, which is weird, because some of them are good friends and I'm like, "Wow, I didn't get you in all these years; you still hate it" — it's daunting. For other people, they feel that they don't have the time, no matter how many times I try and convince them otherwise. Even for people like empty nesters that had big families, they don't know how to scale back to two people or a person. They don't know how to cook less or change their style because they've been cooking the same way for so long. [For those people], there's a lot of purpose in these [boxes] ... This is a nice transition or leg up for people.

The way my grandfather raised me, it behooves everyone, no matter what age you are or what you do for a living, to learn some very basic and smart skills in the kitchen, and ultimately to be able to break down a chicken or make a stock, chop your own vegetables, blanch things, freeze things. It's a much more budget-friendly way to live long-term, to know how to process your own food.

It's also budget-friendly to have food measured out in what you need for that day so that you don't waste food ... I work so hard to try to get people to lower their food waste. It's very mindful and budget-forward to buy what you need and to prepare that food, and [to] have zero waste is a really smart thing. You can believe two things at the same time, and I do.

I haven't seen the reaction to [the Home Chef partnership] yet. We'll see how people react to it, but I hope they like it.

What to expect from the Home Chef boxes

Will Home Chef be featuring some of your recipes?

Yes. All my recipes are always my recipes, whether it's on my television show or magazine or book. If I said I wrote it, it's my recipe.

When it came down to it for Home Chef, I've written so many [recipes] — like 27 or 28 [cook]books — and I write for the show almost every day and turn it in for the following week. There are so many recipes, and I feel like they're all related to me. They're a part of me. I asked Andrew Kaplan, who runs our charitable initiative, [to] go through and look at what people like. Look at what people love. We sent [Home Chef] a laundry list of what some of our most popular riffs are, what people really dig.

Home Chef did the same thing. They did their homework, and they said, "Look, here's what everybody that likes us likes. These are the things that are most successful." And they have a pantry that has to be used. They have a system, or they couldn't do this all the time, every day — not just with me, but in general.

What we did was a food conversation, a back and forth. "Here's what you can choose from — are any of these interesting to you guys?" They said, "We think that these folks that like us might like these [recipes] the best, but these are the ingredients we have. Can we work together on this, that, and the other thing and get this to a middle ground?" That's where we ended up.

What are some of the things readers can expect from this partnership in terms of meals? What are some of your favorite things that you came up with, with Home Chef?

There's everything from pub-style burgers to what are more elegant, but easy, meals. These are all [made with] very few ingredients, not intimidating at all, [like] apples and pears with chicken or pork. You can make it with either — the kit you buy with one [option].

There's every type of cuisine. We have steak pizzaiola if your husband is a big meat-and-potatoes guy. My husband loves steak pizzaiola. There are things there that are more personal to our family, but we try to put in something for everyone. There's a little bit of something for whoever it is, whatever their diet is.

'Food should not be intimidating'

On a broader level, since Home Chef is all about making things easier and faster for the average person, how do you go about developing recipes with that in mind?

It's all I've done for almost 30 years. Food should not be intimidating, even if you burn it, ruin it, or mess it up. When you make your own food, you can have a sense of self. Whether it comes out great or not so great, you'll have a chuckle at it, and it always means more than if you order takeout.

It's a necessary skill. I'm an old lady now, but when I was a kid, everybody took home ec. Everybody learned how to cook. Everybody took shop. Everybody knew how to fix a car and build a birdhouse and turn a lamp on. Over the decades, a lot of this has diminished. It's a basic skill in life to be able to provide food for yourself. The more you learn about food, the more you'll be able to live on any budget, and the more secure you'll feel and the happier you'll be. I truly believe that.

If [a meal kit] is what you need to get yourself comfortable in a kitchen, great. Do that thing. I am not snobby about this. [Meal kits] are a very useful tool for a whole bunch of folks, and it may get them excited enough to take more interest or more charge of their everyday lives. It's fun to cook. It's fun to be in the kitchen. Anything that gets you excited about that or makes it easier for you, I'm all for it. Go for it.

Final tips and what's next for Rachael Ray

What are some of your favorite things that you've personally been cooking or eating recently?

I cook every single day. If I'm in Italy, I cook for 16 to 26 people a day. If I'm in Upstate New York, I cook three different ways every day because my mother likes some things, my sister eats another way, and my husband eats another way. I make television shows, most days, three shows a day. I make so much food every day, my head spins. I make everything all the time, and I cook the world. I cook everything.

One funny note is that when I cook in Italy, I try and mess with them because they don't get access to take-out and take-away, and the culture we have in New York City is [that] you can eat anything in the world. Any night of the week, [you can] have it delivered in moments. I'm going to Italy again late tonight, and while I'm there, I'll cook Korean, Chinese, Indian, and of course, a ton of Italian. The largest Italian dinner I will prepare is for 65 Americans and probably 20 to 30 Italians.

Cooks are cooks, and at the end of the night, quite frankly, we probably will eat scrambled eggs, pasta with garlic and oil, and a bowl of sorbet or ice cream.

What are some of your basic tips for cutting down time spent in the kitchen?

The same that any cook would tell you — gather all of your ingredients first; do your mise en place. Put your things in place. Get everything prepped.

Relax yourself. Get a glass of wine, a cup of tea. Turn your music on, turn on the gentle hum of "Law & Order," whatever makes you happy. Who cares? You set the environment so you're calm when you cook and that you use your feet less. Don't run around your kitchen.

Have everything in place so once you start cooking, you're just cooking. It's much simpler. Put yourself in a chill mindset. Always have a garbage bowl. Use a large cutting board. Always have a sharp knife. Don't take it so seriously. It's just food.

You've got a lot of stuff going on with the "Rachael Ray" show and "Rachael Ray's Italian Dream Home" and being in Tuscany. What are you most excited for right now?

I love the work I do with A&E. Our work continues with people that have lost their homes to fire and flood, and we're working on programs right now that'll come out next year with them. This is Season 17 of ["Rachael Ray"]. We did something extraordinary. We did a two-part premiere from Italy, from our home.

We're going on another road trip that is very, very personal to me. I can't tell you what it is yet, but I'm shooting it in October, and it will be out in December. It's something I think people will be extremely surprised by.

Home Chef's Rachael Ray meals are available to order online at homechef.com/rachael or to pick up at more than 1,300 Kroger Family stores, now through mid-March.

This interview was edited for clarity.