Details You Didn't Know About Sandra Lee

Sandra Lee is a celebrity chef best known for her Food Network show, "Semi-Homemade Cooking," where she makes easy dinners using canned items and mixes as a base (via The New York Times). The television personality has also created shows for Cooking Channel and HGTV and is a contributor on Good Morning America (via Food Network). She is also an accomplished author, publishing nearly 30 books, including a memoir called "Made From Scratch."

Lee's story is far more remarkable than just her accomplishments in the culinary world. She is also known for her work with various organizations and charities and has also been in the news regarding her long-term relationship with former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. The lifestyle guru is also a strong advocate for early cancer screening and detection after having battled the disease in 2015 (via Sandra Lee's website).

Sandra Lee's recipes are controversial

Sandra Lee's "Semi-Homemade" recipes were never meant to be for gourmet tastes. Lee enrolled at the Ottawa, Canada branch of the Le Cordon Bleu but didn't take to the difficult and precise recipes (via Her recipes for "Semi-Homemade Cooking" are based on Lee's 70/30 rule — she uses 70 percent canned or store-bought premade food and adds 30 percent fresh ingredients (via People). Although her cooking style was a hit with fans, some other chefs were not impressed with her kitchen skills. Anthony Bourdain clearly did not approve of Lee's style and was quoted as saying, "This frightening Hell Spawn of Kathie Lee and Betty Crocker seems on a mission to kill her fans, one meal at a time. She must be stopped" (via Mashed). 

One "Semi-Homemade" that got intense criticism was Lee's Kwanzaa cake. The cake — which celebrates the African-American holiday of Kwanzaa — was made with a store-made angel food cake, frosting, canned pie filling, corn nuts, and a bunch of candles. Salon said the instructional took "pride of place in the pantheon of hilarious culinary disaster videos."

A Harvey Weinstein connection

Harvey Weinstein is an American film producer and convicted sex offender. In February 2020, Weinstein was convicted of rape and sexual assault and sentenced to 23 years in prison, according to the BBC. Before the allegations, Weinstein's Miramax company entered into a joint venture with Sandra Lee. In 2002, Weinstein's company agreed to publish "Semi-Homemade Cooking," which was Lee's first cookbook and featured an introduction by iconic Los Angeles chef Wolfgang Puck. In a press release, Weinstein called Lee "a great talent who has all the necessary ingredients and a recipe for success" (via Writers Write). 

As late as 2016, Sandra Lee still backed Weinstein. Notably, Lee posted a picture of her and Weinstein at an AMFAR benefit on her Facebook page, captioning the picture, "Many people don't know this, but he is the original 'Magic Man,' a catalyst to my career who catapulted 'Semi-Homemade' into a household name!"

Sandra Lee and Andrew Cuomo

Sandra Lee and the former Governor of New York were an item. Though never married, the couple were together for 14 years, according to The New York Post. While together, they seemed to be a happy pair, with Lee helping raise Andrew Cuomo's three daughters. Lee was called the "Semi-First Lady of New York" by Eater and stood by Cuomo's side when he was sworn in as governor in 2011. 

In September 2019, the power couple broke up. While Lee didn't comment about the breakup, The New York Post reported that Cuomo might have been cheating on the celebrity foodie. Cuomo denied the cheating allegations to the Post, saying, "Any suggestion that I had a sexual relationship with any member of my staff or that I was unfaithful to Sandy is false."

Lee has since moved on and was recently seen kissing her new boyfriend, actor Ben Youcef, in Saint-Tropez. Lee was also seen sporting a large diamond ring (via Page Six). 

A breast cancer scare

In 2015, Sandra Lee was on the top of the world. Indeed, the successful author and celebrity was named to People Magazine's list of the most beautiful people in the world (via YouTube). But according to WebMD, Lee received a call from her doctor just minutes after she completed a shoot for the magazine. The news: Lee had ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), an early form of breast cancer.

In 2018, Lee released a documentary chronicling her entire journey with breast cancer for HBO called "Rx: Early Detection — A Cancer Journey With Sandra Lee." Lee chose to have a double mastectomy rather than a lumpectomy, and four months later, she announced she was cancer-free. Lee is now an advocate for early breast cancer detection. She partnered with her then-boyfriend, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, to start legislation in the state to extend screening hours at hospitals and clinics and require insurance companies to pay all deductibles and copays on cancer screenings.

Sandra Lee's philanthropy

Sandra Lee is more than a lifestyle guru and author — she has also used her celebrity for good. Celebrity giving site Look to the Stars lists multiple organizations that Lee has helped over the years, including the Elton John AIDS Foundation, the Food Bank for New York City, GLAAD, GLSEN, Habitat for Humanity, Human Rights Campaign, Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, Share Our Strength, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the Trevor Project, and the T.J. Martel Foundation. Lee is also one of the three founding board members of the Los Angeles chapter of UNICEF and is a spokesperson for Stand Up For Cancer, per Westchester Magazine. Elsewhere, she is the national spokesperson for No Kid Hungry and works with various food banks. 

Lee has also become an activist for breast cancer awareness. She rode a custom Harley Davidson during a Breast Cancer Ride, which was later auctioned off for $18,000 to benefit the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.