Rachael Ray's Transformation Is Seriously Turning Heads

Forbes once asked Rachael Ray to describe herself for people who didn't know her: "I cook and I chat. That's what I do," she said simply. It's true that Ray has managed to build an empire using this basic formula. Throughout her varied and successful career, Ray has worn multiple hats — a Food Network TV personality, host of her own talk show, cookbook author, and founder of the lifestyle magazine Everyday With Rachael Ray. She even finds the time to run Yum-o!, her own non-profit organization to help kids learn about healthy cooking. It's clear that millions of people love to watch this powerhouse "cook and chat!" And chances are, you've come across her before.

So, how did Ray manage to build this foodie empire that made her a multi-millionaire? It turns out, she hasn't always been the powerhouse she is today. Curious to find out more about how Ray's humble beginnings eventually led her to the stratospheres of food stardom? Here is the transformation of Rachael Ray.

Rachael Ray came from a food-loving Sicilian background

While it's hard to imagine Rachael Ray ever struggling to get by, it turns out, her early life couldn't have been more different than her life today. Ray was raised in Lake George, New York, along with her older half-sister and her younger brother. In a 2006 interview on 20/20 with ABC, she jokingly referred to herself as a "hick from the sticks."

She grew up in a family that absolutely loved food. Her mother's father, for instance, had grown his own food and had cooked everything that his family ate. Her mother went on to own a series of restaurants. On her father's side, Ray was exposed to the cooking traditions of Louisiana. As Ray told the Food Network, "My first vivid memory is watching my mom in a restaurant kitchen ... I was 3 or 4." And apparently, "vino" was her first word. Talk about being a foodie!

A family member taught Rachael Ray to let go of vanity as a kid

One of Rachael Ray's most important influences was her Sicilian grandfather. As she revealed NPR, he taught her some important lessons when she was young.

For instance, on her first day of school, Ray put on her best dress and brought her favorite sardine sandwich for lunch. "So I came home that day being the stinky girl in the funny clothes with the funny shoes," Ray wrote. "And I said, I'm never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever going back to school, ever, ever, ever again.'" Luckily, Ray's grandfather was there to help. "There's plenty in life that you have no control over that you will cry about. Certainly your vanity should never be one of them, you know?" Ray explained.

It sounds like Ray's grandfather was incredibly influential in helping Ray become the ultra confident woman she eventually became.

Rachael Ray's mother is to thank for her laid-back approach to food

In just about every interview, Rachael Ray sings the praises of her mother. It's clear that the food maverick's mother was hugely influential. As Ray explained in a 20/20 interview on ABC, her mother and father divorced when she was 13. She and her siblings often went to work with her mother, who managed a series of local restaurants. "I'm a pale comparison next to her," the star said. She went on to explain that she grew up watching her mother working "100 hours a week." "She was like the person I look at, and I said, 'Wow,'" Ray recalled.

It's no surprise that this incredible woman remains a huge influence for Ray. As she told the Food Network, if she wasn't with her mother at a local restaurant, they were in the kitchen. It was here that her mother instilled in her fundamental lessons on food and on life. "Don't take yourself too seriously" and "food is just food" are two of the mantras from her mother that Ray has always abided by. It seems like without her mother, Ray would never have developed into the cook and personality she is today.

Even in high school, Rachael Ray was a force to be reckoned with

It's impossible to observe Rachael Ray at work without marveling at her undeniable dynamism. As she explained to Good Housekeeping, she has pretty much always been this way. In high school, she was one of the brave cheerleaders "who climbed to the top of the pyramid and then flipped into the arms of other cheerleaders," as she put it. She even began showcasing her penchant for the food business, creating her own food gift-basket business called Delicious Liaisons.

In an episode of The Rachael Ray Show, Ray actually returned to Lake George High School 20 years after graduating. As Ray's P.E. teacher and cheer coach recalled, Ray was "very energetic, enthusiastic, always someone the kids wanted to be around." And her old guidance counsellor found a hilarious old report card that mentioned that Ray had sometimes resorted to "bossiness" among her peers. As Ray joked, "There are worse things you could be!" Sounds like Ray's powerhouse personality really started to take shape in her high school years.

Rachael Ray entered the food industry as a waitress and dishwasher

Rachael Ray's mother introduced her to the world of food from an extremely early age thanks to her restaurant business. As Ray told Forbes, "I literally grew up in restaurants, and kitchens, and walk-ins." So, it was no surprise that her first jobs were working in a restaurant as a dishwasher and a waitress.

While she found being a dishwasher difficult, saying, "That was humbling," she loved her time as a waitress. "I went to work with enthusiasm and purpose to do that job better than I did the day before," she recalled. "That makes your life very meaningful." She went on to explain that those early jobs in restaurants "mapped out my entire existence" and informed her approach to her food brand.

As Ray wrote in the introduction to her book Rachael Ray 50, she is "a waitress in my heart and a cook in my soul" (via CBS News).

Rachael Ray wasn't convinced that her big break on TV was the right step for her

After working throughout her childhood in restaurants, Rachael Ray's big break was a little unexpected. Her first television jobs were on local TV. Her first TV appearances came about from local 30 minute cooking classes in upstate New York. As Ray put it to Good Housekeeping, this first show was "a happy little accident." However, at this time, it wasn't the direction that Ray thought her career would or should take.

She recalled to NPR, "The television thing is a very weird happening for me, and certainly not anything I planned for." In fact, for a while, she resisted the world of television. She explained that it initially felt like the wrong job for her. At the time, she thought, "I serve people. I'm the service person. I wait on people that are on TV. I'm not on TV."

And when the Food Network came calling, she voiced her concerns. Luckily, they convinced her to take the job!

When Rachael Ray married in 2005, she refused to put her career second

Rachael Ray's career faced a potential threat in 2005 — Ray got married. However, as the TV star explained to Good Housekeeping, putting her career second to her new marriage was never an option. "I can't give a man an enormous amount of attention," she said. "And John is totally down with that."

Ray met her husband-to-be, John Cusimano in 2001, just as her career on TV was taking off. As she said, she had already decided that she'd never settle down with someone who was too much work. Luckily, he didn't demand too much of her time. Of course, the couple enjoys their time together when they can — "John and I will stay up long enough to have a laugh and share a meal, even if it's really late," she explained.

Not only is Cusimano super understanding of his wife's busy career, he has also become a collaborator and supporter for Ray. In 2012, he co-authored a cookbook with her, contributing recipes for unique cocktails alongside Ray's dishes. Sounds like a match made in foodie heaven, if you ask us.

Rachael Ray took up running after an invasive surgery left her on vocal rest

In 2009, Rachael Ray underwent a dramatic surgery that ended up being quite a turning point in her life. Prior to the surgery, Ray explained in a post on her website that she had developed a tiny benign cyst on her vocal chords that sometimes caused pain and vocal issues. Her doctor "suggested I get the thing lobbed off and rest my voice for about two weeks while I am on holiday break this December (I admit, this will be the hardest part)," Ray wrote. For someone as chatty and vivacious as Ray, the long vocal rest did prove to be seriously challenging.

As People reported, the cyst was removed in July of 2009. As Ray later told Good Housekeeping, the period vocal rest left her with lots of pent up energy. She even took up jogging. "I used to say I would never run unless I was being chased by someone with a gun," she joked. "But now I'm a little obsessed with it." She even lost weight, and became even more energetic, if that were even possible. Sounds like the vocal surgery was actually a blessing in disguise.

Rachael Ray decided to stand by Mario Batali and faced some backlash

Of course, Rachael Ray hasn't always had an easy time in the public eye. In fact, some of her decisions have caused a fair amount of backlash and some pretty unkind comments from fans. In 2011, Ray controversially stood up for her friend Mario Batali. Batali, a chef and restaurateur, faced a series of allegations of sexual assault.

As NPR noted, Ray and Batali had been friends and colleagues since competing together on Iron Chef. While Ray hadn't spoken to Batali about the sexual allegations, she refused to give up their friendship. As she put it, "I don't think it's fair. Once people have gone through something that's so traumatic and dramatic." And it wasn't just Batali she thought of — it was his family, too. She went on to explain that she could empathize with Batali because she has also been publicly humiliated and hated throughout her career. "I'd go to interview after interview and people would bring up the website I Hate Rachael Ray," she explained.

Whatever you think about Ray's defense of Batali, it's clear that her motivations were good.

Rachael Ray loves learning new things on the job

Even though Rachael Ray is easily one of the most successful foodies in the world, she has always remained super humble. In fact, it's probably her eagerness to keep learning new things that makes her so special. Unlike some other people in her industry, Ray is constantly transforming as she learns new things.

In 2015, she spoke to Food Network about the importance of continually expanding her horizons. "I don't really know anything," she admitted, "and I think that that's what makes our shows popular, you know?" She added that for her, good television should be about starting a conversation and sharing information. She summed up her approach to learning, saying, "I try and be curious and dedicated and authentic when I go to work."

Ray's career has thrived thanks to this humble approach. As Fox2Now noted, she is "kind" and "giving," and as ABC News put it, she is "funny, relaxed, and even humble." It's clear that people have picked up on Ray's humility in the kitchen and her eagerness to learn — in fact, we'd go as far as to say it's a key element in her success.

Over the years, Rachael Ray's empire has grown bigger and bigger

After beginning as a waitress and a local cooking instructor on TV, Rachael Ray has managed to create an entire empire out of her brand. In addition to her various cooking shows on Food Network, Ray has released over two dozen books, her own magazine, a set of kitchenware, and a billion dollar pet food brand. In 2019, E! News reported that Ray' net worth had grown to the staggering amount of $80 million thanks to these various ventures.

As Entrepreneur reported in 2017, Ray's rise to the top of her game is no surprise. In fact, she showcases several aspects shared by other top business men and women. For instance, she knows her audience, and knows how to provide products and content that they love. Plus, her authenticity means people trust her brand. "People smell phony," she told the publication. It's evident that Ray's relatable and friendly persona is a genuine aspect of her personality, but it's also clear that it's something the business mogul is conscious about.

Rachael Ray decided she would fight to remain relevant after turning 50

For many women in the public eye, middle age proves to be a difficult time. In the entertainment industry in particular, women often find themselves losing popularity as they age. For Rachael Ray, her 50th birthday was a challenge she met head-on.

As she explained to NPR, her book Rachael Ray 50: Memories and Meals From a Sweet and Savory Life was, in part, a statement about what middle age can be for women in America. "I wanted, as a woman who's 50 and has a lot of jobs that I'm grateful for, I wanted to reflect that the American dream is still alive, that if you work very hard, opportunity will come your way," she said. She added, "That you can be 50 and over and female in this country and still be relevant."

She went into more detail about the book on The View, saying, "I wanted to prove to people that anybody could be Rachael Ray." It seems that for Ray, turning 50 wasn't a bad thing — rather, it was a chance to celebrate her success and encourage other women of all ages to take charge of their lives.

Rachael Ray developed a deeper appreciation for her husband during the 2020 pandemic

For most of us, a lot changed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was no different for Rachael Ray. As the star explained to US Weekly, the pandemic forced her and her husband to switch up their routines in isolation. "John and I have always worked together, but in separate buildings," she said. However, in 2020, they worked in the same building, all the time, "which of course is a huge adjustment," Ray said.

The change in situation helped Ray to develop a deeper appreciation for her husband's work. Since Ray was also making her show from home, her husband had to take on multiple new roles like "cameraman and tech services." For Ray, the pandemic actually brought her and her husband closer together. "I think we have a deeper appreciation of each other," she said. Sounds like their relationship has just gotten better and better!

Rachael Ray and her husband experienced a devastating house fire in 2020

Even though Rachael Ray and her husband developed a stronger bond in 2020, the year also presented some problems for the couple. Just before the premiere of the 15th season that would launch Ray's 2,500th episode, their home was destroyed in a devastating fire. The star spoke about the impact of the first on Good Morning America. She recounted how her husband had been out playing golf, and had returned in a bad mood after playing poorly. "I thought, 'Well, I'll make pasta, and I'll light a fire and that'll put him in a good mood,'" Ray recalled.

A few minutes after lighting the fire, a passerby ran into their backyard yelling, "You roof's on fire!" Luckily, Ray and her husband made it out unscathed. However, they lost their home and many treasured belongings, including Ray's "life's work," handwritten letters, and other personal items. Nevertheless, Ray managed to remain positive — "We had so much to be grateful for," she said (via The Hollywood Reporter).