Rachael Ray's Sizzling Success Story


She calls herself a "hick from the sticks," but at 38, Rachael Ray is fast becoming an industry.

She's the star of "30 Minute Meals" and three other popular shows on the Food Network.

Ray is also the author of 16 cookbooks for the time-starved; editor of a monthly magazine; and creator of a line of knives, cookware, furniture, and even her own brand of olive oil.

Watch "20/20" Friday night at 10

As if that wasn't enough, she launched a daily talk show this week where she ventures beyond the stove to offer a smorgasbord of tips, celebrity visits and adventures.

The show is backed by Oprah Winfrey -- who saw something in Ray the first time the perky cook appeared on her show:

It's easy to understand.

Click Here to Check Out Rachael Ray's Site

"20/20" caught up with Ray last week, after she had already been working for 12 hours, and she was still going strong.

Sitting in the show's studio, where the audience rotates like a Lazy Susan on sets resembling different parts of the home, Ray says she's most excited about having an audience for the first time.

"I've been alone talking to myself on camera for five years."

Ray says the only rule on her new show, "Rachael Ray," airing on ABC nationwide, is "no crying allowed."

Not since Dr. Phil, has Winfrey supported a show like this.

"From the day I met her, her advice has been exactly the same. Be yourself," Ray said.

A Busy Woman

Beyond her new show, Ray is busy with books, the Food Network, a magazine and cookware. She says it's not too much to handle.

"This is a lovely life where you're afforded the opportunity to chat and cook -- two things that I would do to relax," Ray said.

"Who cares when you get home? I'm lucky enough to do the stuff that I would normally be doing to relax from a real job."

Ray says what most people consider relaxation is actually stressful for her.

"Relaxing freaks me out. All that massage and a Zen moon doggie, listen to the chimes and the ocean, let some lady rub you," she said. "It just freaks me out. I'm not good with the calm ... I'm high-strung ... I've been in a knot since birth. I want to stay that way."

Ray grew up in a sleepy town in upstate New York, in the heart of the beautiful Adirondack Mountains.

She still returns almost every other week to spend time with her mom, Elsa Scuderi, who like Ray never seems to slow down.

Ray's mom managed a string of local restaurants, but still found time to cook for her family. Little did she know she was training the next big thing in the food world.

Ray's mom gives a little insight into her daughter: "From the time she's been very small, she has always been ahead of herself."

Click Here to Check Out Rachael Ray's Site

Her parents divorced when she was 13. Rather than hire a baby sitter, her mom often brought Ray and her older sister and younger brother to work with her.

"I'm a pale comparison next to her," Ray said. "My mother worked 100 hours a week, and wouldn't bat an eyelash. All my life she was iconic to me, she was my first Oprah. … She was like the person I looked at, and I said, 'Wow.'"

Ray says she learned everything from her mom.

"I think that cooking was just a byproduct of the way we lived, and life happened around the food," she said. "We were always in the kitchen and talking and sharing, and it was just where you had a good time."

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