The Tragic Story Of Rachael Ray

Even if you're not a long-time Food Network fan, you likely know and can recognize Rachael Ray. The seemingly plucky, down-to-earth cook who makes you feel like she's just like you, got her start at Food Network in 2001 with the launch of her first Food Network show "30 Minute Meals." Since then, she's amassed a food empire that encompasses an array of other shows on the Food Network, as well as her own daytime talk show, "Rachael Ray," which launched in 2007 and ended in 2023. She's written dozens of cookbooks. She started a magazine in 2005 called "Every Day with Rachael Ray." Walk into a big-box store and you'll see a range of products bearing Ray's image, from cookware to dog food. By all accounts, Ray is an absolute success, an example of how hard work (Ray is no professionally trained chef, working at grocery stores and managing restaurants until a local CBS station discovered her) can add up to a wealth of possibilities.

However, is Ray's life really as perfect as it may seem if you've just glimpsed her face on magazine covers or in commercials on television? While working her way to the top of the food celebrity pyramid, Ray has encountered her fair share of tragedies.

Ray's iconic voice is due to an illness

Just as many throughout America — foodie or Food Network fan or not — can recognize Ray on sight, so can many recognize her iconic voice. As she tells you how she's going to put dinner on the table in half an hour or less, you'll pick up on a certain grave quality that's difficult to replicate and that stands apart from a lineup of interchangeable television personalities. However, these qualities in Ray's voice could be traced back to childhood illnesses.

In previous interviews, Ray has told publications that she's had issues with her voice since she was a child and that she never had strong vocal cords to begin with. She specifically mentioned multiple instances of croup, which is a type of infection most popular in children that tightens the upper airway and causes coughing and difficulty breathing. Ray has also mentioned repeated instances of losing her voice, and after doctor visits for the above issues, told her to do throat exercises and avoid irritants like caffeine.

Ray needed surgery on her vocal cords

In 2008, rumors began flying that Ray had throat cancer. The National Enquirer had put out an article spreading the news, saying that Ray would need surgery to remove the cancer, something that would take her out of the limelight for a couple of months. The publication followed up with another article saying that a source told The National Enquirer that Ray had a vocal cord growth that may also require radiation treatment, and the source specifically mentioned cancer cells being present. However, luckily, the cancer rumors turned out to be false. That said, it doesn't mean that Ray was completely fine.

A representative for Ray spoke to People following The National Enquirer story and said Ray did indeed need surgery on her vocal cords, but the surgery was just to remove a benign cyst. Otherwise, the spokesman said Ray was "the picture of health," not feeling poorly at all, and that the out-patient surgery would not affect her work schedule other than requiring a short, week-long break. The surgery took place in December 2008 and Ray's tapings for Food Network and "Rachael Ray" went on as planned.

Ray's been mugged multiple times

Mugging is seen as hardly uncommon in New York City. However, according to the New York City Police Department, there were 1,417 instances of robbery in January 2024 (mugging is classified as robbery, as it's taking property from a person through threats, separating it from burglary, which requires a break-in). That means, since New York City has a population of over 8 million people, you only have about a 0.01% chance of being mugged in New York City — which makes it feel a little less common than you might've assumed. However, this only makes it even more tragic that Ray has been mugged in New York City, not just once, but twice.

Ray told People that, when she was working in Manhattan and living in Queens in the late 1990s, she was mugged by the same person twice in one week. The first time, he assaulted her in her apartment's foyer, prompting Ray to pull out her mace. The second time, the assailant was more forceful and possibly even retaliatory, as Ray told People, "He dragged me down the alley and beat the crap out of me with his gun." As a result, Ray moved back to the Adirondacks of New York, where she then began to work managing restaurants within the luxury Sagamore Resort on Lake George.

Ray's aunt died outside Ray's home, sparking a family feud

Spend enough time reading about or watching Rachael Ray, and you'll quickly realize just how important family is to the celebrity chef, especially her mother. Her mother accompanied her to her first appearance on TODAY, which led to Ray being noticed by Food Network. She's also described her mother as her favorite cook and person.

However, that doesn't mean that the Ray family is perfect. In fact, the entire family experienced a tragedy in 2013 when Ray's aunt died outside Ray's home, sparking a family feud. The 77-year-old Geraldine Dominica Scuderi was house-sitting for Ray in late November when she went outside to feed the birds and locked herself out of the home. After trying to break a window to get back inside, Scuderi collapsed in the frigid temperatures and was discovered the next day. Ray's cousin blamed Ray for the death and negligence and reported that Scuderi had not been given her own key for the housesitting, then likely collapsed due to lung issues. The tension increased when Ray did not attend the funeral, as she was taping a show at the time. Later, Ray's brother came to her defense and said no one else was upset that Ray did not attend the funeral.

Ray's husband has been accused of cheating

Rachael Ray's husband John Cusimano gets nearly as much attention as she does, as the actor, lawyer, producer, and musician shows up frequently alongside Ray at media appearances, on her shows, on her social media accounts, and beyond. Looking at the two together, they might seem like a perfect pairing. They've been married for nearly 20 years, holding their wedding in a Tuscan castle in 2005 and renewing their vows in the same venue in 2015. They have also returned to the castle every year with family and (many famous) friends to celebrate their anniversary.

That said, this romantic relationship hasn't been without its share of tragedies, like rumors of infidelity (even though those rumors have not been justified). One rumor claimed that a Florida woman met Cusimano in New York in 2000 and continued an affair with him for years, with Cusimano paying her for her services and engaging in drug use with her. Other publications have said that Cusimano has cheated at least twice, and maybe as much six times, but Ray said these accusations are unfounded when she told People, "I've known where he is every night since we've been married."

Ray's dog food brand was sued

Rachael Ray has often been a very vocal dog-lover, bringing attention to her dog Isaboo on her shows and in her magazine. It's not surprising that she decided to launch a dog food brand, Rachael Ray Nutrish among her various projects. Not only does the brand aim to offer nutritional, high-quality products to your favorite pooch, but it also helps fund The Rachael Ray Foundation, as portions from the food's sales go to help animals in need.

Unfortunately, though, Rachael Ray Nutrish has been sued not once, but multiple times. In 2018, a complaint was filed that the dog food brand contained weed killer and should not be promoted as natural. The claim was dismissed at first due to lack of specificity, but then amended and refiled, before being dismissed yet again. Then in 2020, a lawsuit was filed against the brand stating that DNA test results on some of the food showed that there was dog DNA as one of the ingredients. Furthermore, the case noted that the food, which claimed to only contain six ingredients, contained far, far more than advertised. Another lawsuit claimed the foods were potentially harmful to dogs due to false advertising that presented the foods as healthier than they were; this lawsuit was also dismissed.

Ray received backlash for standing up for Mario Batali

Many celebrity chefs have fallen out of the limelight due to accusations of sexual misconduct, but perhaps none have done so quite so famously as Mario Batali. One of the food world's most famous celebrity chefs, several women accused Batali of sexual harassment in 2017. While in 2022, Batali settled two of the cases and was found not guilty in one case, he was still the subject of a documentary on the accusations, "Batali: The Fall of a Superstar Chef" — and he hasn't really rebounded since.

So, when Ray stood up for her friend, it was nearly guaranteed to come with some backlash. According to a 2019 interview with NPR, which acknowledged that Ray has "controversially remained loyal" to Batali, Ray said she still spoke with her fellow Food Network star at the time but also said she hadn't asked him about the accusations. She also called the attention unfair and mentioned that both men and women tend to speak inappropriately while working in kitchens, and that she's always been treated fairly in the industry.

Ray has received a large amount of public criticism online

For all of her hard work and success, Ray has received quite a lot of criticism from those who can't stand her. She knows that there's a website out there, or at least there once was, called "I Hate Rachael Ray." (The website has since been changed to Rachael Ray Sucks.) She's also aware that there have been a fair number of her colleagues who've publicly and negatively commented on her.

Among the people who have publicly dissed Rachael Ray, you'll find Martha Stewart, who said in a 2009 ABC interview that Ray told her she couldn't bake. Stewart also criticized Ray's most recent cookbook at the time. Along these lines, most industry vitriol seems to stem from Ray's fast and easy approach to cooking, which is arguably what made her famous in the first place. Other similar complaints have come from Giada De Laurentiis, Emeril Lagasse, and Anthony Bourdain — though it's worth noting that some of the beef has been put aside. Now, Lagasse and Rachael Ray seem to be pretty good friends, with Lagasse making frequent appearances on "Rachael Ray."

Ray's been accused of not writing her own cookbooks

With more than 20 cookbooks to her name, Ray has published hundreds of recipes. Add onto that, the recipes that are published online in places like the Food Network website or Rachael Ray website, or ones that have appeared in her magazines, and you have possibly thousands of recipes accredited to her name. While you might not expect that all of the recipes on Ray's shows or in her magazine are her own, most do expect that Ray writes all the recipes and content in her cookbooks — so it was a bit of a surprise when some industry insiders accused her of not doing so at all.

In 2012, The New York Times published a story called "I Was a Cookbook Ghostwriter," which claimed that many celebrity chefs aren't writing their own recipes or cookbooks, Ray among them. Afterward, Ray mentioned on an episode of "Rachael Ray" that she writes her cookbooks in "the little time at home" that she has with her family, but does still admit she has help from those who organize the book and put on the finishing touches, like the glossary. Bobby Flay also told TODAY that he fully believes Ray writes her own cookbooks, saying he's seen her do so between filming her shows.

Ray's been accused of being a poor show host

While not a lot of food-focused shows are filmed in front of a live audience, when Ray launched "Rachael Ray" as part of the daytime TV lineup, a live audience was a crucial component. However, some claim that despite Ray's hard work and endless hours devoted to her shows, she's not all that great of a host when the cameras stop rolling.

Tripadvisor reviews of the show's taping experience are a mixed bag, with some thoroughly enjoying their time at the taping, and others saying "don't get your hopes up" or that they thought the experience was "so very disappointing." One unhappy audience member from 2019 even said she felt sorry for Ray's colleagues as "she acted like someone who did not want to be there and seemed in a foul mood," prompting the reviewer to ask why Ray even continued with the show if she disliked filming it so much. Regardless of the poor reviews, though, it's not a problem Ray has to worry about at the present moment; "Rachael Ray" has wrapped up its final season, and Ray has gone on to focus on other television projects, such as her latest series on Hulu, "Rachael Ray's Rebuild."

Ray's home burnt down completely in 2020

Speaking of Ray rebuilding, the new "Rachael Ray's Rebuild" show focuses on those who've experienced a tragedy similar to one that Ray has also experienced. This is also the tragedy in Ray's life that's likely been the most publicized to date — the destruction of her Adirondack home in 2020 from a house fire. Ray helped design and build the home in Lake Luzerne more than a decade ago before it succumbed to a chimney fire that necessitated immediate evacuation. The house burned well into the night until it was completely gone.

Ray lost many sentimental items in the fire, so when she set out to rebuild she tried to make the new home, including its furnishings, as much like the old home as possible. However, she also made some changes that would help safeguard the new home from a potential future fire, such as adding a tin roof. In addition to rebuilding her Adirondack home following the 2020 fire, Ray also purchased a home in Tuscany, Italy in 2021, with the remodeling of the villa documented in a short series called Rachael Ray's Italian Dream Home, available on Hulu.

Ray's apartment flooded during Hurricane Ida

If a massive house fire isn't enough tragedy in a single person's life (and in the midst of a global pandemic, no less), Ray had more tragedy arrive on her doorstep in September 2021, when Hurricane Ida struck New York City. According to New York City CDGB Disaster Recovery, while Hurricane Ida wasn't quite a technical hurricane when it struck the city, the post-tropical cyclone still broke rainfall records in NYC, causing millions in damage and more than a dozen fatalities. It also damaged more than 3% of the city's buildings — Ray's apartment among them.

Ray told People that Hurricane Ida completely wiped out the recently renovated apartment, destroying "every speaker in the ceiling, the fireplace, every seam in the wall," making it look "like the apartment just literally melted." Then, when a remediation team attempted to assess the issue, they broke a water pipe which flooded the apartment anew, along with the entire building down to the ground level. However, by the 2021 holiday season, Ray was back in the apartment for Christmas, showing off her décor on "Rachael Ray."