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Why do chefs get annoyed with Rachael Ray? She takes what they  (the chefs) worked really hard at and recreates substandard versions using manufactured products and ready to use ingredients. Rachael won’t shuck her own peas, she just buys them in the can and dumps them in-she won’t make her own puff pastry, she will buy it, defrost it and top it with fruit.   She takes what was hard, makes it easy—and not as tasty AND she gets tons of money and a TV show for doing it. It all just seems unfair right?   She is also way to upbeat and happy – and that’s annoying too.  Rachael Ray may anger the chefs but she makes the masses happy—they can recreate an illusion using her shortcuts while impressing their friends all in the 45 minutes they have left after work, the gym and carpool.

Rachael let the world in on the chef’s secrets so they could enjoy it too!

A similar parallel has taken place between the food scientist and the food science “writers” like Harold McGee and Nathan Myhrvold. McGee wrote “On Food and Cooking” which translates technical food science into cook-friendly kitchen science, something that had not yet been done in a systematic, comprehensive way. Myhrovold wrote Modernist Cuisine, a description of the application of scientific research principles and new techniques and technology to cooking.  Both of these writers took the mysterious world of food science and made it into something that everyone could understand and relate to- and play with in their own at home kitchens.

BUT yet- I am bothered by these guys in the same way that Rachael Ray bothers the chefs.  I think about the great food science professors and all the research being done by food companies all over the world and how they are looked upon with disdain by the masses… The food scientists are just a bunch of artificial flavor using, high fructose corn syrup worshipping, preservative injecting, GMO supporting scientists responsible for world-wide obesity and diabetes.  I actually get annoyed when a “foodie” or chef tells me how McGee changed their life or Myhrvold inspired them—or now they see how great xanthan gum really is— I just want to say: “hey, I coulda told you all that stuff and then some if you just asked”.

But they didn’t ask me and if they had I would not have been able to explain it to them in layman terms the way McGee and Myhrvold did- I would have probably just quoted from my Fennema Food Chemistry textbook or given them a lecture on the importance of acidified foods and a sub 4.6 pH.

And so I can’t really resent Ray or McGee or Myhrvold- they simply just recreated, in simple easy to understand language what was already out there. As long as we all understand that Rachel Ray is not a real chef and McGee and Myhrvold are not really food scientists, but very smart people who just generated mass interest- I think I can live with their fame and glory while I continue to get the evil eye from all the foodie, hippie, artisan, free thinkers of the food world. Just don’t forget who optimized those canned peas that Rachael Ray tosses into her authentic made from scratch Shephard’s Pie!

Lets keep it real!

About Rachel Zemser

2 Responses to “Rachael Ray Is To Chefs What Harold McGee and Nathan Myhrvold Are To Food Scientists”

  1. Jose Nieves

    The comparisons are somewhat skewed.. While I don’t disdain Ray as much as some of my fellow chefs do (thank you for introducing me to EVOO and the dishes in the discount bin!!), I see her more as a lightning rod for the new crop of TV personalities that have never worked a line. McGee, This and Myhrvold and his extensive team have produced tomes specifically aimed at cooks with questions related to their work/passion akin to Escoffier codifying the recipes of his time. They both happen to be scientists who have written extensively about food but whether or not they are “food scientists” is up for debate. When you add to the mix the amount of slack that Myhrvold took for “taking the soul and passion out of food” then things get even murkier..

    I give the titles of “Chef” and “Food Scientist” a bit more gravitas than the usual layperson but that’s just because I’ve worked in both fields. People who refer to themselves as “home-made chef” use the title indiscriminately and cheapen it (definition of chef is “a professional cook, typically the chief cook in a restaurant or hotel”) and I see this as the source of much of the frustration aimed at Ray. That and the fact that nothing she has done has truly added to the food canon while McGee’s, This’ and Myhrvold’s books are the beginning of what I hope to be a happy marriage of science and food.

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