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The Lessons “Mama” Taught Rachael Ray

Many fans of Rachael Ray often wonder about the journey she took to get where she is today. I came across this great article called “School of Mama” in the Albany Times Union. You can read the full story here.

When David Letterman asked Rachael Ray if she went to culinary school, she had a great reply:

“I went to the school of Mama!” Ray exclaims.

How many of us could say that very thing? I personally went to the school of Mama, too, with Dad as the assistant principal. Both of my parents were outstanding cooks with completely different experiences. Mom, being born and raised in the Southwest taught me some amazing cooking techniques. She also took some tours with Dad in Germany and Spain, learning the cooking styles there as well. Dad came from the North and can make outstanding stews, chilis and cooks with venison unlike most I know. He also took a tour in Thailand and taught me a few things about Thai cooking (my favorite Asian cuisine).

Rachael started wowing the crowd early, or so it seems:

“My mother was the type who always wanted her kids around her,” Ray explains. “She didn’t want us with baby sitters. We all grew up in restaurants.”

So it came as no surprise to Scuderi when, at age 11, Rachael presented her with a Mother’s Day dinner fit for an Italian queen: a plate of spinach lasagna pinwheels in a Gorgonzola sauce with blanched asparagus.

“It was a feast for the eyes,” remembers Scuderi. “She arranged the asparagus around the plate to look like the sun shining.”

Rachael’s Mama, Elsa Scuderi, learned a lot about cooking and life in the kitchen herself.

“The kitchen was the center of our home,” she remembers. “There were a lot of mouths to feed, and we had to learn about food. My mother made wonderful pies and breads, and my dad was great with meats, stews and sauces.”

On weekends, Scuderi’s father, the late Emmanuel Scuderi, would teach the young Providenza (her given name) the finer points of cutting meat, proper food temperatures and canning vegetables from the garden.

“He’d take a whole piece of meat and season it with herbs and garlic, put it in a hot oven for half an hour then turn (the oven) off and leave it for a few hours and it would be tender and succulent. His food was magnificent,” says Scuderi.

“We had to learn about food, learn a little Italian and go to church,” she says. “If we did those things really well, we got into the rumble seat and went for a matinee and an ice cream.”

It sounds like Grandpa Emmanuel was the pillar of the family.

When a tree fell near the family’s home, Emmanuel left it where it was and carved seats into it for all the children.
“We went out and took food there and listened to his stories,” recalls Scuderi. “Life was good with him. He was a high-spirited, energetic person. There’s a saying by Churchill: ‘as soft as the driving fog and as resistant as marble,’ and that describes Dad.”

Ray also credits her late grandfather for being the genesis of the family’s sense of closeness and their love of cooking.

“My grandfather and I were best friends,” she recalls. “He loved to cook and grow his own food. In my family, there was always good food. It was Italian stinky cheese, fresh greens and sauces,” says Ray. “We weren’t kids who had Pop Tarts and crap like that; I was a food snob by age 7.”

Mama - and business manager for Rachael - is proud of her daughter.

But Scuderi says her daughter has taken the essence of her family’s cooking and made it her own. “Rachael can take anything I cook and shorten it.”

Anyone who watches Rachael Ray regularly hears her references to being a “Ho-Jo” girl (for those of you born much more recently than I, that would be “Howard Johnsons”). Not many realize that it was at Ho-Jos that she worked for her Mama. I really love this quote from Rachael:

“She was a tough manager,” Ray confirms. “If you’re not a hard worker, look out. And God help ya if you show up stoned or drunk.”

Both Mama and daughter admit they’ve learned much from each other.

“For Elsa and Rachael, working in a restaurant was never just a job, it was something they loved,” says De Santis [Elsa’s former manager at Howard Johnson’s]. “It doesn’t surprise me that Rachael is so successful. She gets it from her mother.”

In return there are a few things Rachael’s passed on to her mother.

“I’ve learned that you don’t have to stand in a kitchen for four hours to get dinner — Rachee taught me that,” Scuderi says with a laugh. “I’m learning to have more fun and enjoy life. But I love French sauces and bean cassoulets and mint salads — I’ll always take the time for that.”

Great lessons that move far beyond the kitchen.

Madeline said:

I am jealous! Food in my house came out of a box from the pantry or a box from the fridge. To this day, I still can't even look at the Shake and Bake box in the grocery store. I have certainly learned a ton from Rachael Ray - not just recipes but the right attitude for cooking. She makes it fun and approachable.

Chris said:

I love RR and enjoy all of her shows (30 min meals, $40 a day, tasty travels). I have recently read some very unflattering things about her past and some unscrupulous behavior but I am just chalking them up to mistakes a kid makes in college.


Merri said:

I've heard about the stories on RR, but I blow most of it off...mostly because the majority of people have made bad decisions at one time or another in their past (college does come to mind), but the difference is, she's getting more and more famous so there will always be someone out there trying to take her down a notch. I blame it on a level of jealousy.

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