Rachael Ray: 'I Don't Regret a Thing'

"Television itself is an intimate medium," she said, explaining why it doesn't hurt her feelings. "It's in your house. You're visiting with these people. ... Not everybody's going to like it, just like not everybody likes everybody on the playground. I mean, that's life -- especially if your job is to just go out there and be yourself.

"If you spend so much time thinking about the people who dislike what it is you're doing, you're doing a disservice to the people that employ you," she said. "I'm not employed by those people. I work for the people that want the type of food I write [about], the type of food we share with people."

But Ray seems completely comfortable with her role in the kitchen -- funny, relaxed and even humble. She maintains that anyone could have done what she's done. Does she really believe that?

"I absolutely 100 percent believe that," she said. "I'm a waitress from upstate New York. Anyone that likes chatting, that likes to cook, certainly. Could have happened to anybody."

A waitress atop an empire. A syndicated daytime talk show, four hit food network shows, 16 bestselling cookbooks, a self-titled monthly magazine, and her own brands of dog food, olive oil, and even a line of pots and pans.

Part of her success is making cooking as easy as possible -- with short-cuts, including using chicken stock from a can and pasta sauce from a jar.

Ray's Career: 'A Rocket Ship Ride'

Her daytime talk show is about to tape its 500th episode and there are 190,000 people waiting for tickets, according to officials at the show. Ray says the success of the daytime show still delights her though it is vastly different with its live audience and celebrity guests than her Food Channel show, "Thirty Minute Meals with Rachael Ray."

"There's certainly a noticeable difference between talking to your vegetables for seven or eight years alone with your friends on cable and sitting down on a sofa or at a kitchen table talking with all these people," she said. "That was a huge transition. It certainly felt like a rocket ship ride to me."

The rocket was launched in upstate New York. Ray worked in a food specialty store and thought maybe the reason people weren't buying the groceries is they didn't know how to cook with them. She couldn't persuade local chefs to come in and do food demonstrations, so she herself started little in-store classes. The classes were such a success they led to appearances on the "Today" show, and then on the Food Network. Oprah Winfrey saw something special in her, and voila -- a new daytime star was born.

Ray reportedly earns upwards of $18 million dollars a year now from her various ventures. When asked about her income she said she has "no idea" how much money she earns annually, but admitted "it makes me a little sick. It makes my stomach flip. I'm not comfortable with it ... because I don't like to think of my life as that far away from me. People that make that kind of money -- it's just too foreign of an idea."

She can recall a time when her hands trembled at the grocery store register, "because I didn't know if I had enough money for the groceries. And it was like $60, and I thought I'm going to have to be that lady that chooses between the toilet paper and the chicken breasts."

When she's not taping, Ray wears pajamas and sweats, and shops at Target and TJ Maxx. She said she's beer in the bottle, not champagne in a flute. And that's just the way she intends to stay.

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