Top | First Person

I am not Rachael Ray

(article, Rachel Wray)


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[%pageBreakSettings nobreak=true] The clerk at Williams-Sonoma didn’t say it. I realize this a block away, a white-handled bag hanging by my side, and I’m a little hurt. Everybody says something — friends, family, co-workers, and, most consistently of all, retail clerks.

It’s the name: Rachel Wray. Or, in this case, Rachael Ray — the celebrity chef whose television, magazine, and cookbook empire grows by the day. I can’t shake a hand, buy a carton of milk, or clink a glass without our shared names being noted, usually by people quite pleased to make the connection and, more often than not, under the assumption they've made it first. They haven't; I hear it all the time. I even hear she’s known to fans and friends as “Rach;” that’s my nickname, too. 

For three decades, I have been preternaturally proud of my alliterative name; I wouldn’t give it up for Prince Charming himself. Now, after yet another “Hey, your name is Rachael Ray” comment, I’m not so sure.

My dirty little secret is that I don’t have cable and have never seen her show. But since she’s everywhere — profiled in the New Yorker and Time, grinning broadly from a shelf in my sister’s kitchen — I feel like I know her. I’ve read about her Rachaelisms and Ritalin-ready kitchen shtick. I’ve flipped open her magazine and counted the number of exclamation points in her editor’s note. On a darker note, I’ve linked to websites where bloggers spew hateful anti-Rachael rhetoric and cracked open books by professional chefs who excoriate her. 

Based on my experience being the other Rachel Wray, I'd say she is more loved than reviled. Strangers keep me so up-to-date about her rising star that I’ve actually corrected other people who weren’t familiar with her television lineup. I bought pants last month, and the salesgirl’s squeal when she saw my debit card was the sort typically reserved for "The Ed Sullivan Show." 

Her fandom includes people of all ages. Last year, a work colleague introduced his three-year-old son to me. “William, this lady’s name is Rachel Wray,” he said, before turning to me conspiratorially: “He loves her show — watches it all the time.” William regarded me appropriately, as an obvious imposter. I faked enthusiasm: “I like to cook, too!” The little boy stared, unblinkingly, before turning to his father, anxious to get away, while I in turn judged him for watching the Food Network instead of cartoons. Beat it, kid — don’t you have a sammie to rustle up?

[[block(sidebar).

h1. Literary antecedents

In 1863, the prolific English writer Anthony Trollope published Rachel Ray, a novel of provincial romance, class politics, and industrial brewing. The plot? Winsome, earnest Rachel Ray falls for a local brewer, remains steadfast to her ideals and rural roots, and triumphs in love and fortune. Coincidence? You decide.

]]

Once upon a time, older folks were prone to asking me if I was related to the actress Fay Wray, of "King Kong" fame. Now, even they are hip to the delish host. On a recent trip, as my card was swiped at an airport store, the clerk, an older woman with tight gray curls, giggled, “Oh, your name is Rachel Wray. Isn’t that funny? Do you watch her show? You kind of look like her. I bet you don’t talk as much as she does. Whenever I have it on, my husband says, that woman just talks and talks and talks . . . ” 

I am more comfortable with silence, apparently, than Ms. Ray (and the airport employee). Although I’m a big fan of food, wine, cooking, and acronyms — all things I’ve learned Rachael Ray loves, too — I am not an especially quick cook, and according to her ebullient website, I am a bit more discriminating when it comes to convenience food. Her magazine’s dozens and dozens of photographs each month prove that Rach never leaves the house without an ear-to-ear grin (and, perhaps, a stash of Vaseline for those teeth), whereas I’ve been known to scowl on occasion. And, if an FHM centerfold from a few years back is to be believed, Rachael and I definitely don’t share, shall we say, all of her attributes. The girl’s stacked.

But we have the name, and I have a reliable conversation starter. When I’m introduced to people for the first time, they seem pleased to be able to note something about me, and it gives us places to go conversationally: do you like to cook, have you tried the wine, why the hell doesn’t she ever stop smiling and talking? When I make dinner reservations, I get to imagine that the host thinks, if only for just a moment, that a very important person is coming to dine, even if I haven’t noticed particularly obsequious treatment once I’m in the restaurant (to be fair, I haven’t noticed particularly rude treatment either, which wouldn’t be altogether unsurprising if the Rachael Ray Sucks Community is to be believed).

[%image Rachel width=120 float=left caption="Rachel Wray, not Rachael Ray." credit="Photo courtesy Rachel Wray"] 

And sometimes, it’s like a little gift I give to others. I suspended delivery of my newspaper the other day, and the clerk on the phone said, “Boy, you have a famous name.” I sure do, I replied. “You aren’t by chance that famous person, are you?” she asked. As we hung up the phone, I could hear her laughter and imagine the story she would tell her co-workers: hey, I just talked to Rachael Ray. 

But unlike my eponymous friend, I can retreat into anonymity, even at a seemingly incongruous locale like a cooking-supply store. A few hours after my trip to Williams-Sonoma, as I was making quick work of a garlic clove with my new chef’s knife (not the brand that Ms. Ray endorses), I remembered: I had used a gift certificate at the checkout, and the clerk only knew me as initials. For one tiny instant, I felt like I had pulled a fast one — like a celebrity in giant shades slipping out the back door instead of hitting the red carpet. My name felt like a secret that was all mine.

p(bio). Rachel Wray works in the community-affairs department at the Port of Portland in Oregon.


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