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Rachael Ray Appearance Anniversary

Updated: May 13, 2023

**This is a tweaked version of the original blog post that was written in 2016.**

RR Show aired: May 13, 2015


On May 4th, 2015 I was packing for a life changing trip. I was nervous and excited and scared out of my mind. I had come so far and worried so much, cried more tears—out of happiness and anxiousness—than I could possibly imagine (but there’d be many more before the week was over). I was only a few days away from stepping foot onto the first plane I’d ever been on, taking my first steps in New York City and being in the same room with Rachael Ray (and Chef Jacques Pepin, only I didn’t know that at that time).

For those of you that need a little background I will start from the beginning. In March 2015 I turned the television over to The Rachael Ray Show and the show paused for a brief announcement from Rachael Ray before going to commercial. She was announcing her collaboration with the International Culinary Center (ICC) for a Culinary Tuition Competition (the ICC has since shuttered). The short segment went on, as she spoke images changed on the screen from professional kitchens to shots of her stage and kitchen. It wasn’t until the segment was over that I realized I was crying and my heart was racing. A little voice told me I had to do whatever the competition entry was; I had to try.
Me being me, I put it off until the last minute. Part of it was that I didn’t know what to make for my entry. The main part was that, even though I knew I loved cooking, even though I knew I was good at it; If I didn’t make it, what would that do to me? Would it push me forward and urge me to prove that I was good enough? Would it just stamp down the desire of running my own food business? Would it crush me?
I was scared.
In the end, the idea that I was good enough and me not trying was scarier; so I entered. A week before the final submission date, mise en place set and a quick phone video tutorial for my momma later and I was ready to film my entry video. A five minute or less video that included a cooking demonstration and explained why going to Culinary School would change my life. That five-minute video took over five hours to film and an amazing friend (Red Serial Films) a weekend to edit into five minutes.
I received the final edit on Monday, three hours before the deadline.
I said another prayer and sent it in. (View that here!)
On April 22nd, after two more rounds of entry submissions (an essay and a phone interview), I received the call! (The edit of the original airing can be found below the recap).

When I arrived at the airport a car was waiting for me, a car! For me!! (I realize how ‘small town’ I sound, but hey, I am ‘small town’.) At the hotel I was given a packet of information regarding things to do in New York and some details for the rest of the week. I was so excited, overwhelmed and tired, I had to take a short power nap before heading out to explore the city. I feel so silly having wasted that short time sleeping, but I truly don’t think I would have been able to make it through the rest of the day had I not.

Afterwards, I walked out of the hotel and just turned in one direction and started walking. I saw someone eating some gelato and asked where she had gotten it; little did I know that I was getting directions to a food mecca! (Side note: When I told my parents later about just asking this stranger the gelato they laughed at me. “You just walked up to a stranger in New York and asked them a question?” Well, how else was I supposed to find out!?)

I walked in expecting a little gelato shop but found an entire world of food. I remember texting my momma saying that I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven. This was my first Eataly experience, and I knew I’d be back! I walked through what I can only guess is at least an entire block filled with restaurants, and storefronts. And I didn’t even get that gelato! I was so overwhelmed and excited! I wanted to take the whole store home! Later that night I would mention that to someone at Guy Fieri’s restaurant in Times Square; he suggested buying cheap luggage, filling it with everything I wanted to take back (that couldn’t be carried on) and checking it! I seriously considered it!

Waldy's Wood Fired Pizza

My lunch on Tuesday was seriously hard not to immediately show everyone! Waldy’s Wood-Fired Pizza! I will never forget this place, it was amazing and I recommend it to everyone I know who mentions visiting New York. You could see the wood fired oven from the cash register and the pizzas they had looked amazing! I ended up having a Lamb with Roasted Lemon pizza and added my own herbs from the cute little potted herb garden they had for their customers to pick from. (I’ve since been back to New York and visit Waldy’s as often as possible while there. However, I've also found out that Waldy's closed it's doors in December of 2022.)

I did not get a chance to see half of the locations I wanted, but I do have a serious list for the next time I’m in New York! (Update: I’ve still got that list, only a few things have been marked off.) I spent most of my Tuesday just walking around the city, taking pictures, exploring Eataly and Times Square at night!

Once I was hungry, I started looking for a restaurant that I couldn’t find in my home town or in every other vacation spot; Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar sounded pretty good and right for the money (I was watching what I spent, because I knew I’d be heading to Eataly again before I left—I had to save up!). I had Sashimi Tacos and a Jalapeno Margarita. The Tacos were fantastic, and I would recommend them to anyone! The Margarita? I should have just stuck to a regular one; it wasn’t that it was too spicy for me, it was that I did not enjoy the combination of the spice, the lime and the tequila. However, please try it should you feel like it and ever in Times Square! Or wherever you find this restaurant, as the Time Square location has since closed.

Rockefeller Center (picture taken on a 2019 trip in January)

On the way back to the hotel, I stopped by a few souvenir shops and picked myself up some cheesy souvenirs and a New York charm for my charm bracelet. All the way back to the hotel, I did more picture snapping, in between conversations with my parents; but mostly I tried my best not to think about the next few days and how nervous it made me.

After laying out my next days outfits, and hair idea and praying I’d be able to actually do them; I ordered my breakfast room service. I didn’t want to risk being late for the filming because I was stuck at breakfast!

I didn’t have a clue what the next day would bring, and I knew I’d get very little sleep if the butterflies in my stomach and the recipes in my head kept flying and running the way they were. I prayed that I was wrong, that sleep would come, and that the next day would go well.

Wednesday; this was the first day of the competition. I didn’t know what to expect. I got up early, ate breakfast, spent far too long on my hair, got dressed and ironically enough, watched part of an episode of Rachael Ray before heading downstairs to wait for the other competitors and the person from the show who was meeting us.

Waiting down in the lobby, I looked at every person who entered the hotel and everyone who got off the elevator wondering if they were the people that I’d be competing against. A woman, who couldn’t have been older than myself (turns out she was two years younger), walked over to me, smiled and said, “Christina? I’m Emily!” She was one of the two people I’d been communicating with from the Rachael Ray Show. She informed me that the other two should be down anytime now and then we’d be on our way.

Once in the car, and introducing ourselves, we each tried asking her questions about what was going on and what we were going to be doing that day. To her credit Emily was tight lipped! She was good. We were excited, but a little frustrated by the silence. She told the driver to stop about a block before the location we were actually going. You see, this was a little confusing to us because we all knew that the Rachael Ray studio was on the same street that our hotel was on, and only a short walk away; but we’d driven for a while now.

We ended up waiting in the car, talking for around an hour for what ended up being audio and video. Emily wanted to have us mic’d in the car a block away, that way our surprise would be completely genuine. While it didn’t end up that way, the reactions seen on the show (at least mine) were still extremely genuine. When we pulled up to the International Culinary Center (ICC), I was in utter awe. I couldn’t believe this was real. I couldn’t breathe.

We were mic’d and told that we were going to be filmed while touring the school! Walking through the ICC was incredible; I could be learning in these halls! I pressed my hand in the handprints on the wall of famous chefs, celebrity chefs, and chefs whose recipe books grace my shelves. They wanted a reaction, an audible one; I was having trouble thinking of anything to say. I still couldn’t believe it was real, I was just trying to take it all in, in case I never stepped foot in the building again. We stopped the filming process a few times for this or that, but there was one time that was pivotal. We were held or hidden a little way down from where we were actually going to be shooting. People were bustling around us, whispering about something or someone, watching what was going on and looking to see if they could see someone.

The surprise was ruined for one of the ladies I was competing against but thank God it wasn’t for me! Once we were told to go stand in front of one of the classrooms, we were given a tablet to watch a message from Rachael Ray giving us a little information about what today held for us. She ended the message by telling us to look up and meet her friend. I raised my eyes and tried my hardest to hold back tears as Chef Jacques Pepin turned the corner and walked into the hall, coming toward us, hugging us!

Let me put this into perspective to anyone who may not be a food person; this was me meeting someone who had helped shape the way I grew up. I watched PBS with my daddy almost every day, this man cooked with Julia Child. He is an extraordinary talent, and I was being hugged by him. I went into this competition expecting to meet Rachael Ray, I would never have been as calm as I was going into this had I known I’d be meeting him as well.

Fun fact: They asked us to re-film that reaction scene at least three times, because I was tearing up and couldn’t stop shaking. He hugged me each time! But the shot that made it into the show? The first one. The genuine reaction!

The day continued with a cooking tutorial from Chef Pepin himself and our first round of the competition; a basket of secret ingredients and a selection of other pantry items. We were given a whole chicken, asparagus, potatoes and mushrooms in the basket, an hour and told to go! We had no cuts, no do overs this time. This was the real thing. The first thing I thought of was Lemon Chicken and my family’s pan-fried potatoes. I grabbed a lemon and bottle of wine and started breaking down the chicken. I used the dark meat for the Lemon Chicken and decided I’d make a Honey Mustard Chicken with the white meat. Using some mustard, lemon and wine I made the honey mustard sauce and cooked the chicken in it. I zested and squeezed the juice of two lemons in the pan with the dark meat and wine, then sliced up a third, allowing them to roast with the dark meat in the oven. I added the asparagus to a pot of boiling water and then blanched them once they were just done. Slicing up the mushrooms I placed them in a pan and sautéed them with some fresh herbs, butter and wine.

Not everything made it on the plate, and it wasn’t the best day I’ve ever had in the kitchen, but I learned a lot. I learned about time management; a lot more than any job could have given me. I learned about myself and how I handle the stress (I think I did a heck of a lot better the second day, handling that stress). After the first challenge was over, we were given chairs, cups of coffee and/or wine to share a glass with Chef Pepin. The four of us talked while the interview room was being sat up for our final interviews. Being given the chance to talk shop, talk life, talk history, while sharing a glass of wine, with Chef Jacques Pepin; I have no words that would adequately explain what that time meant to me. Today when I watch his shows and he opens a bottle of wine, I smile remembering him coming to all of our stations and refilling his glass with the wine we were cooking with.

The other ladies and I had talked about going to the rooftop bar in our hotel for a drink or snacks and an amazing view, once our day was over. However, the day that started at 11:00 am ended around 12:00am! It was a long day, but one that I would trade for nothing!

On to Thursday; the big day was upon us and it was nerve racking! The filming day was shorter, so I got up early and dressed quickly and then went to a shop around the corner for a tomato and cheese quiche and a cup of tea (hoping to help my nerves). The quiche was very good; puff pastry with cheese melted in the middle and tomato slightly roasted on top. I have recreated it since and added some green onions; it is one that I have in my recipe notebook for future use!

Since the day was going to be solely in the studios for the final competition, and the studios were about a block away we didn’t have to be ready very early. Once Emily came to the hotel we just walked to the studios where we went to hair and make-up! The Rachael Ray Hair and Make-up ladies were great; and we got to meet Gretta Monahan while waiting.

While sitting in our room before the show began, I was trying to have nice friendly conversation with the other competitors, but I was shaking on the inside (probably some on the outside as well) and so nervous! Everything was on the line here; my dreams were this close to being reality; one one-hour meal preparation and I could be starting a new life living in New York. I knew my life wouldn’t be ruined if I didn’t win, but I did know that I’d have to go back to a desk job that, at the time felt like it was sucking the life out of me.

We were told it was time and I swallowed hard, not believing that this was happening, and walked with them to the set. We watched on the screen behind the set while Rachael Ray introduced Chef Jacques Pepin. He made a chicken dish, after he completely deboned it in record time, and then they played clips of our three entry videos and introduced us. We would have one hour to make a meal with the same ingredients that were in the basket the day before. We would be judged on taste, creativity, presentation and the added criteria was how well we took and used the constructive criticism from the day before. We were competing to win full tuition to culinary school, seeing how well we learned was a valid point.

Once time started, I tuned out everything around me. I focused on what I wanted to make. The day before I tried to use the whole chicken, so I wouldn’t waste any of it and as a result I didn’t get part of the meal on the plate. This time I went for only lemon chicken, pan fried potatoes and sautéed mushrooms, onions and asparagus. I had this! I was ready. Once zesting and juicing lemons into the pan of chicken, I let it brown while I sliced potatoes. Then I knew I wanted to deglaze the pan with some wine, so I went to the pantry.

Okay so a little background here, I have a cheater corkscrew at home, you know the one with the arms that raise as you twist the key. I have never used a waiter’s corkscrew, successfully. My friend, a bartender, taught me how to use one once, but I had yet to try it. The wine we used in the first competition wasn’t corked; it was a screw on lid. So, when I went to grab the wine and saw the waiter’s corkscrew beside it, I took a deep breath and for those 30 seconds my friend’s words were the only thing running in my head! Thank you, Denise, for being with me in those short seconds while opening that bottle! I now own both the cheater corkscrew and a waiter’s corkscrew and use the waiter’s more than the other.

After de glazing the pan, I put it in the oven (after asking Chef Pepin if the pan was oven safe, he said yes. Then once I was back to my workstation, I overheard him asking one of the Rachael Ray culinary team if it was! I couldn’t hold back my chuckle!). Now that the chicken was browned and cooking through in the oven, I could focus on the vegetables! Butter, wine, fresh herbs and some lemon zest were the best friends of mushrooms, onions and asparagus. The potatoes were sliced thin and placed in a skillet coated with butter, then sprinkled with fresh rosemary and salt and pepper.

We had to make two plates, one for tasting and judging and one for the camera shot. So, I pulled the chicken out of the oven to test the flavor and doneness of one piece I wasn’t going to be using as part of the competition. I was extremely happy with the taste and knew it was ready. I put the lid on it and sit the pan on the warmer eye in the back to keep the chicken hot. Time was ticking away quickly! I couldn’t believe that this life changing hour was almost over. I still get nervous watching cooking competitions when the time clock countdown begins!

I chose my plates; put the chicken, sautéed vegetables and pan friend potatoes on the plate. Time? I had about one minute left, so I wiped the sides of the plate and sprinkled some lemon zest over the plate. I was happy. And even if I wasn’t happy about what I had presented, it was done. I put everything I had on that plate! I was excited and relieved that it was over, come what may.

A photo of the tv shot of my final plate.

We waited back in our room, watching while Rachael did her “What’s for Supper?” segment. While we waited, each of us spoke of things we could have done differently but congratulated each other on having gotten through the competition.

Once back on set, we waited as Rachael reminded everyone of the prizes that would be rewarded the winner, and the cookware we all would be receiving for getting that far in the competition. We stood there, impatiently awaiting Chef Pepin’s decision as he spoke to each of us about our plates. After Rachael said she loved the color of my food, I was in a little bit of awe.

After the competition I had a few hours until my flight, so I went back to Eataly! I found a place to sit at one of the restaurants bars and ordered a few things that featured items from each little shop found there. I had a charcuterie board, with fresh cheeses and honey, nuts and figs; oysters on the half shell and then I ordered the actual meal: calamari, and a small salad. I enjoyed all of this with a couple of glasses of wine before going to the shop and picking up a few usable souvenirs; a tower of stackable measuring cups, a chef’s hat (I mean come on!), a t-shirt and a re-usable shopping bag!

At the airport, I had my first run in with the TSA! I completely forgot about all the bobby pins that the Rachael Ray Hair stylist used in my hair, and they set off the metal detector!!

Interestingly enough, I would have another run in with TSA in the same airport on my next trip back from New York, but this time it would be because of loose leaf Genmaicha tea from David’s Tea.

If you’ve made it this far, you’ll notice that I haven’t changed a lot about this post, just a few tweaks here and there. But now, it’s been eight years, I can go on and tell you that I did not win the competition. I had fierce competition and the exact right woman won. The other competitors have gone on to start a catering business after she won and completed culinary school. The other did go on to culinary school even though she did not win and has been personal chefing as well as catering and her blog. As for me, I’ve not gone the culinary school route, but I’ve worked in restaurant kitchens, started my own business, become a personal chef and got out of the 9-5 lifestyle!

RR Show aired: May 13, 2015


Christina on the Rachael Ray Show 2015

In May 2015 Rachel Ray and The International Culinary Center in New York City hosted the first Tuition Competition for one lucky aspiring chef in the States. -Subscribe to my YouTube! I'm hoping to start videoing some soon!-

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