Table Talk

Continued from Keeping it Real

On hard work.

“Don’t be a snob when it comes to work. The only way to know if you really love anything is to get in there from the ground floor up, whether you have a fantastic five-star education behind you or you’ve got to go piecemeal to community college or you’ve just got a high school education.

“I think you should enter the workforce as young as possible. I got my working papers when I was 14 and I’d already been working restaurants. [Hard work] changes your whole life. Nothing ever feels like too much, nothing ever feels like pressure if you train yourself to be a hard worker. You get so much out of it. You feel honest at the end of the day.”

On positive attitude.

“Try to be very happy whatever your job is. You know people always promote you or notice you if you’re positive-minded when you’re at work. There’s such a climate today because we’re such a country of privilege and many excesses, I think sometimes we can run into the danger of expecting.”

On kids in the kitchen. “The goal for getting a kid in the kitchen is the whole self-esteem factor. It gives the kids such a sense of empowerment to be able to make something that everyone wants to eat. For me, it shouldn’t be about muffins or popcorn balls or cupcakes or party things. It should be about meatloaf or pasta or something that everyone will eat because that’s the empowerment. They’re giving something to themselves and their family, and they feel like, ‘Wow, I brought home the bacon!’ ”

On home.

Ray and husband John Cusimano, a lawyer and musician, are building a home in upstate New York, and meantime share a cabin in the Adirondacks with dog Isaboo. “The first big thing I bought when I went to work with Food Network was my home. I’ve always wanted the peace of mind of having a place I could die in if need be. I just wanted to own my cabin. It was about $100,000 and it was $575 a month, rent to own. When I bought it I still owed about $80,000 on it because the landlord gave me 5 percent a year from my rent. I’d lived there for eight years and then I bought it for cash. It’s little. [No dishwasher, one bathroom.] I’ve lived in the same place for 15 years. I have another apartment in New York now because obviously I have to work here so much, but my apartment is not some huge penthouse thing. It’s about 1,300 square feet, which is big for New York City but it’s not gluttonous.”

On food prices.

“I feel so bad for people because I understand they can’t afford food anymore…. In Manhattan, [you buy] as much food as you can carry, so I had three reasonable sacks—all produce, two pieces of fish (tuna), garbage bags, whatever—and it was $140. I almost fell over. I can remember if I spent $50 for groceries for the week my hands would tremble because I didn’t know if my bankcard would work for it. If you’re in Manhattan, say you drive a bus or work in a tour booth, how do you live, how do you afford to cook or eat anything?

“I’m going to do so much programming about stretching ingredients this season. I’m going to take a family grocery shopping and show them that, back in the day, you could boil up a chicken and make nine meals out of it.

“There’s a global food crisis and a gas crisis. I mean the food costs are just nuts. I really think that we’ve got to change some of these subsidies in the farm bills. We have to start paying more farmers to grow green stuff, not just corn. Corn’s great, but can you grow broccoli on the side?”

On conservation and the environment.

“I’m really trying to educate myself, not just to become greener, but become smarter about energy.

“Conservation has always been big where I come from because I’m from the Adirondacks. As little kids, we’d go to ‘Stop the Acid Rain’ fund raisers and listen to James Taylor.”

As Ray grew more financially successful, “Eventually, I spent $700,000 buying 200 acres next to my cabin. I immediately set up a system where it will only pass to people in my blood line…. I’m going to build a barn on that land, but other than that I’ve blocked it all off and it’s going to remain forever wild. I live in the Adirondacks, so it’s important to me to preserve as much of it as possible.”


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