Monday, January 30, 2012

Rachael Ray Dishes On Her Day With First Lady Michelle Obama...And Worries About Paula Deen

Healthy school lunches, exercise, the Super Bowl, White House dating: Exclusive interview with First Lady will air on Wednesday...

By Marian Burros

Rachael Ray
, talk show host and cook, couldn’t stop talking. From her interview with Michelle Obama, set to air on Feb. 1, to her anxiety about fellow chef Paula Deen, there was no dead air when Obama Foodorama caught up with her last week. Ray still hadn’t come down from her high after an appearance on Wednesday morning with the First Lady at Parklawn Elementary School in Alexandria, VA, where Mrs. Obama unveiled the new federal regulations that put more fruits and vegetables and whole grains in school meals, while removing some of the sugar, fat and sodium. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was on hand for the long-awaited announcement, too. (Above: Mrs. Obama and Ray eat lunch with the Parklawn kids)

“There’s no more pleasurable way to spend the day than what I did,” Ray said.

Mrs. Obama gave Ray a shout out as she unveiled USDA's new standards: “I want to give a special hello to Rachael Ray, who’s a special guest here. She has been a true advocate on this issue for quite some time, and we're just thrilled that she's here with us today.”

Later, Mrs. Obama described the Southwestern showcase lunch she enjoyed in the school's cafeteria, made with Ray's recipes, as “nice and well prepared.”

Or in Ray's words, Yum-O. Mrs. Obama, Ray, and the Secretary sat down with 200 plus second and fourth graders to feast on ground turkey tacos with black beans and corn salad, brown rice, and fresh fruit and milk. And to add a little icing to the cake, Vilsack asked Ray for the taco recipe. She also joined the Secretary for a special conference call with reporters.

“It feels like a vacation," Ray said. "Because there’s good food and the joy of the First Lady coming and sitting down here and Sec. Vilsack and the kids and enjoying what will be part of the new school lunch. I love to be able to work with schools and add flavor like ground coriander and improve the kids’ palates.”

Ray interviewed Mrs. Obama in the school's library, sitting on child-sized chairs with a background of books. Ray was last at the White House in June of 2010, when she joined Mrs. Obama for the launch of the Chefs Move to Schools project. Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass and Second Lady Jill Biden have both appeared on Ray's show.

"Mrs. Obama chatted about how excited she is about coming up on the second year" of the Let’s Move campaign, Ray said. “About the Super Bowl and exercise.”

The First Lady also discussed the dangers of having a teenage daughter who's approaching dating age: Malia Obama turned 13 last July.

"Who should the boys be more afraid of, you or your husband?" Ray asked Mrs. Obama.

Mrs. Obama also told Ray she "absolutely" misses grocery shopping now that she's in the White House.

"That's why I have my little secret Target runs," Mrs. Obama said. One of which happened to be captured on film by a veteran White House photographer who has traveled abroad with Mrs. Obama.

Ray ponders pizza as a vegetable...
Her day with the First Lady had one annoying little cloud for Ray. She said she didn’t understand why so many people insisted on mentioning that Congress had weakened the school lunch regulations by allowing a serving of pizza to be considered a vegetable (because of the tomato paste on it) and insisting that potatoes be allowed on the menu every day--including French fries. (Above: Ray in the lunchline at Parklawn)

“There’s so much good," Ray told Obama Foodorama. "It’s very exciting to see such a major and substantive turn around, seeing all of these great strides come to life.”

“I don’t think we should be focusing on pizza. Whether your opinion is it’s a problem or not a problem, you have to see the large picture: That pizza on the menu will be accompanied by leafy green vegetables."

"The only level playing field we have is the school for attacking hunger and obesity and the subsequent diabetes. Can you image the health care costs for the next generation and we’ve done this to them. There are kids under 10 who are already on diabetes medication. I feel so sorry for them.”

Healthy recipes, promotional deals, and Deen...
Diabetes, cooking show hosts. Paula Deen recently announced she has diabetes, in fact she has had it for three years, and has inked what is reported to be a $6 million deal with pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk to be the spokesperson for Victorza, an injectable diabetes medication. At the same time, Deen continues to promote less-than-healthy recipes, and to make butter, sugar and salt companies richer by touting foods laden with these products.

Ray said she has "no opinion" on Deen's very disconnected value net. But she is worried about Deen.

"I love Paula, I think she has been a hard worker," Ray said. "She loves food and she loves people. I feel very anxious for her. She is going through an anxious time."

"I’ve always loved her I’m sure she’s trying to balance it out for herself in her own home and what she’s going to share with her audience. It must be a very personal thing."

Asked about her own less-than healthy food promotions on her show and website, Ray defended these. On Ray's website, the promotional clip for her interview with Mrs. Obama features advertisements for food and exercise, including one for Twix candy bars.

“On our website we always try to have healthy options though we don’t always think about diabetes on our show," Ray said. "Every day we are not teaching lean, mean cuisine but the food I cook in my own home is balanced. “

On the other hand the Super Bowl is coming.

“I always try to cook for Super Bowl," Ray said. "I don’t like low fat or no fat cheese. I think you should eat a moderate diet. Then you don’t feel so bad if every once in awhile you want a chili dog.”

Or her 7-Layer Chili Dog Dip, which is laden with full-fat sour cream and cheese, as well as hot dogs, chili con carne, beans, and salsa.

"The seven layer--forget it," Ray said, gleeful, by way of enthusing about her signature recipe.

Ray and Alliance for a Healthier Generation...
Ray's school lunch recipes that were served at Parklawn were developed for her work with Alliance for a Healthier Generation, former President Bill Clinton's non-profit foundation with the American Heart Association, created to combat childhood obesity. Mr. Clinton, pounds lighter than when he was in the White House and now a vegan after battling heart disease, is not the type to enjoy 7-Layer Chili Dog Dip. Ray's healthy school lunch recipes are available to schools nationwide, according to the Alliance, and will be used in the National School Lunch Program. (Above: Ray with Vilsack during their conference call)

Mrs. Obama's interview with Ray is part of a TV triple-header this week: She's also appearing on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on Jan. 31, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show on Feb. 2. On Feb. 9, Mrs. Obama kicks off a three-day national tour to celebrate the second anniversary of the Let's Move! campaign with a visit to Des Moines, Iowa.

*Click here for Ray's Parklawn recipes, adapted for home use.

*Top photo by Reuters; second by AP; Vilsack photo courtesy of Rachel Ray