The double life of Rachael Ray

She created a media empire built of talk shows, magazines and an endless number of recipes, but is Rachael Ray really as nice and bubbly as she appears on TV? Fans say yes, but her detractors claim otherwise. 

She's been accused of everything from tipping food servers poorly, to feuding with both her mentor, Oprah Winfrey, and one-time ratings rival, Martha Stewart. Haters even claim she played dirty politics during the 2008 presidential election, and that doesn't even scrape the surface. Ray's also got a buffet of family drama going on, with a husband who's been accused of infidelity and a father who's a little too friendly with the tabloids.

Clearly, none of that dirt has brought Ray down. She's still as peppy as ever, and with a reported $80 million net worth, she has every reason to be, but how much tumult is hidden by that trademark toothy smile? Let's take a look at the double life of Rachael Ray.

Gratuity not included

As part of her Food Network show $40 a Day, Rachael Ray spent a lot of airtime visiting eateries. Having made a living in the food industry, you'd think she'd be eager to give back to struggling waiters and waitresses. Not so, according to some critics who've labeled her a notoriously cheap tipper, reportedly leaving waitstaff a paltry 10 percent gratuity.

Interestingly enough, Ray starred in a Food Network program in 2014 called The Big Tip with Rachael Ray, which scoured the country looking for waiters and waitresses that deserve a "life-changing tip" for their work. According to Lehigh Valley Live, in one episode, Ray and co-star Rossi Morreale reportedly arranged for two servers to receive a $1,000 tip each. They also awarded a single mom the show's "grand prize," a $10,000 tip given in the form of a "wad of cash on the table." 

That all sounds great, but what are the chances those 12 G's came directly out of Ray's pocket and not the Food Network's coffers? 

Rachael Ray and politics go together like EVOO and water

Although Rachael Ray has served up seemingly bipartisan recipes in her programs and publications, even crafting clever burger creations for three presidential candidates in 2016, she has also been accused of manipulating her menus to sway voters toward a particular candidate. In 2008, TMZ tore apart Ray's election night cooking guide, uncovering a so-called "devious, grassy knoll-like plot that could decide the presidency."

TMZ noted that in Ray's magazine spread, the actual recipes seemed neutral, with titles such as "Campaign Trail Mix" and "Bipartisan Salad," but the photos accompanying the dishes were allegedly laid out in favor of Democratic candidate Barack Obama over Republican candidate John McCain. In the photo spread, TMZ pointed out three instances where Obama and McCain buttons or stickers are arranged in a dining display, but in all three photos, the Obama image is clear, while the McCain image is either partially obstructed from view or blurry.

Also in 2008, Ray found herself engulfed by a controversial Dunkin' Donuts ad. According to Fox News, the problem was Ray's wardrobe, which included a black and white scarf that looked like a traditional Arab headdress. Critics attacked the accessory as having "come to symbolize Muslim extremism and terrorism." The brand said no political symbolism was intended. Ray leading a double life as a terrorist? That seems far-fetched, but the commercial was pulled off the air for good measure.

O no she didn't!

Oprah Winfrey played a major role in launching Rachael Ray's television career, boosting the rookie chef's profile with numerous appearances on Winfrey's own syndicated talk show. But as Ray's television fame grew, some say the ladies' relationship soured.

In January 2007, TMZ reported that Ray made "disparaging racial remarks" about Winfrey at a dinner following a book signing in 2005. The story was vehemently challenged by Ray's camp, who told TMZ, "Rachael did attend the dinner referenced and enjoyed wine and good conversation with friends and colleagues. She denies making any of the comments referenced. In fact, there are several words that are attributed to Rachael that she has never uttered in her life."

The bleeding didn't stop there. In May 2008, the National Enquirer (via PopCrunch) claimed Ray and Winfrey were in "a war" because Winfrey supposedly had concerns about Ray's talk show and magazine, among other issues. Ray dismissed the gossip during an episode of her show which aired that month. "[The rumor about] Oprah just broke my heart," she said while talking to Winfrey's good friend, Gayle King (via Today). "It really did. It killed me, I'm like, 'No! We like each other!'"

Was her husband hungry for something on the side?

Ray and her husband, producer John Cusimano, celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary in 2015 by renewing their vows during a lavish ceremony in Italy. Ray gushed about the event to People magazine, painting her romance, as she always has, in a positive light. But the couple's rosy image has been tainted through the years by a barrage of tabloid reports suggesting their marriage is anything but perfect.

In 2013, the National Enquirer alleged Cusimano had visited a swingers' club in New York City and had cheated on Ray. The story was denied by Ray's camp, who said the tabloid piece was "another pack of lies printed by the National Enquirer who have been targeting John and Rachael for several years with no merit."

A case of mistaken identity

This debacle is a case of mistaken identity leading many to believe Ray was living a double life as rapper Jay Z's mistress. Say what?

Here's what happened: Beyoncé's Lemonade visual album debuted in the spring of 2016, igniting a frenzied search for the person referenced in her "Sorry" track. In the last line of the song, Beyoncé sings, "He only want me when I'm not there/He better call Becky with the good hair." Some Beyoncé fans, known collectively as "The Beyhive," linked "Becky" to fashion designer Rachel Roy, who may or may not have been the reason Beyoncé's sister, Solange Knowles, attacked Beyoncé's husband, Jay Z, in an elevator in 2014. In the heat of the moment, some members of the Hive mistook Roy's name for Ray's, leading them to "swarm" Ray's social media accounts with lemonade and bee emojis, insults, and even boycotts of her products.

Fortunately, Ray shrugged off the scandal with a laugh. "Rachel [Roy] sent me flowers," she told Us Weekly in May 2016, "and I sent her a bottle, a big bottle of wine and a straw."

Contract killer

Rachael Ray's stock and trade has always been to relate to the average joe (and jane), with her preference for recommending quick, easy meals prepared with non-exotic food items. But behind-the-scenes, she's allegedly been a savvy media pro right from the jump.

According to Page Six, Ray's initial deal with Scripps, the parent company of Food Network, left her so much room to create a side empire and personal brand, that the company completely revamped its contracts with future talent. Speaking with the tab, an insider said, "While Food Network turned Rachael Ray into a star, she made tens of millions and Scripps got none of it. After Rachael, they made sure no talent deal would ever put them in that situation again."

That's third-party speculation, of course, but Ray's rep, Jon Rosen, actually hinted at the daytime TV star's breadth of power in a 2007 interview with The New York Times. While referencing Ray's decision to scale back some projects with Food Network to focus on her brand, Rosen also took a jab at what he called Food Network's attempt at "taking a broader stake in stars' outside activities." That's "somewhat understandable," he said, indicating that "it can be beneficial to some stars," but "in other cases, it might not work." Subtle, no?

Granted, it was obviously in Ray's best interest to negotiate the best deal for herself, but did she ruin the party for everyone that came after her?

She ain't afraid of no ghost(writer)

In 2012, The New York Times named Rachael Ray as one of several celebrity chefs who allegedly used ghostwriters to create their recipes and pen their cookbooks. Chef and writer Wes Martin talked to the Times about his process "developing recipes" with Ray. "It's like an out-of-body experience. I know who I am as a chef, and I know who Rachael is, and those are two totally separate parts of my brain." Okay then. 

However, Ray's description of her collaboration with ghostwriters is a bit different. During an interview on her show (via E! News) with actress and cookbook author Gwyneth Paltrow, who was also named in the Times piece, Ray seemed to diminish the role of her ghostwriters as "the people who write the glossary or that help organize the pantry or that work on a project." She also insisted that she completed her writing during "the little time at home I have with my family."  

It was an oddly defensive take on what appears to be an industry standard practice, but besides that, were her fans really getting bent out shape thinking that she didn't write every word of her "Rachael's New and Improved Tuna Noodles" recipe?

Her family has cooked up some juicy beef

It's hard to imagine Rachael Ray's sunny disposition coming from anything but a charmed and perfect life, but the truth is, there's some darkness behind that megawatt smile. For starters, just as Rachael's career was heating up in 2005, her father, Jim Ray, decided to dump a bucket of cold water all over it by chatting with the National Enquirer. In the shocking tell-all, Jim alleged bitter details about his divorce from Rachael's mother, claimed Rachael "was lonely at school" and "went hungry at home," and even revealed that he threatened suicide in her presence when she was a young child. Yeesh.

Then there's the tragic story of Rachael's aunt, Geraldine Scuderi, who allegedly died from a heart attack after accidentally locking herself out of Rachael's mother's house during a routine house-sitting stint. As awful as that is, the trouble really started when Rachael missed Sucderi's funeral, sparking an ugly family feud that played out — where else? — in the National Enquirer. Speaking with the tab, Scuderi's daughter (Rachael's cousin) said, "I found it very insensitive and inappropriate. It just shows how demeaning Rachael was to my family on the day we buried my mom after she died under such horrible circumstances." 

Through a rep, Rachael said she couldn't attend because of "work commit­ments" but had "paid her respects privately." Double yeesh.

Et tu, Martha?

It seemed like the oven mitts came completely off when Rachael Ray's one-time ratings competitor, Martha Stewart, told Nightline in 2009, that Ray had "professed that she could — cannot bake." Stewart even shaded one of Ray's cookbooks as "a re-edit of a lot of her old recipes." But when asked for comment, Ray was nothing but gracious, describing Stewart's "skill set" as "far beyond mine." She even confessed that "when it comes to producing a beautiful, perfect, high quality meal. I'd rather eat Martha's than mine, too."

Stewart even backtracked her catty commentary days later on her show (via ABC News), saying "there are no bad feelings" between her and Ray. "I applaud Rachel for her enthusiastic approach to cooking," Stewart added. So, that was much ado about nothing, huh? But wait, there's a history here.

In 2006, TMZ reported that not only had Ray allegedly booted some of Stewarts staffers out of her audience, she also shanked Stewart in the apron by airing a pre-taped episode with guest Barry Manilow on the same day Stewart had Manilow live on her show. Stewart even alleged in her monologue that Ray intentionally created the double-booking, but Ray's rep told TMZ, "We wanted to lead our sweeps with the best show we had in the can, and that was Barry Manilow."

In other words: Stewart came for Ray right out in the open, but Ray seemingly lead a double life, dealing her dirt in the shadows.