She keeps it real for her core audience of people who love to cook affordable, friendly food

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated March 02, 2009 02:35 PM
Jack Plunkett/AP

She reportedly earns $18 million a year, but culinary queen Rachael Ray shops at Target and TJ Maxx, drinks beer and not champagne, and has a business “built for a recession,” she says.

“The magazine, the daytime show, we’ve always tried to write affordable, accessible [recipes],” Ray, 40, tells ABC’s Nightline for a profile to air Monday. “Those are key words for us, and I do mean us, a huge staff of people at the magazine who love to cook affordable, friendly food that helps families eat better for less. So I think this is really a time for all of our team to shine … You know, food is such – it’s a hug for people.”

Not that everyone hugs back. Star chef Anthony Bourdain threw a brick in Ray’s direction over her endorsement deal with Dunkin’ Donuts, which he termed “evil” and “like peddling crack to kids.”

“I absolutely love Tony Bourdain,” Ray tells Nightline‘s Cynthia McFadden. “It’s a free country.”

Defends Donut Deal

Defending her Dunkin’ deal, she says, “They came to me and they said, ‘We want to make healthier food for America. You drink a lot of coffee. You grew up on Dunkin’ Donuts. Have a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts on us.’ They gave their support and their money to [Ray’s children’s charity] Yum-o. They’ve been very supportive of me. I don’t regret a thing. Not for a minute.”

Nor does she regret the racy photos of herself published by FHM magazine – even if they upset her mother.

“I think I was 35 at the time [the pictures were taken],” she says. “And I thought about it for a while, and I said, ‘You know what? This magazine has as young as 17-, 18-year-olds in hottie bikinis, and these are all actresses, models, pin-up girls. I don’t belong to any even remote club of theirs.’

“And I thought, ‘If I’m gutsy enough to do this, this is a good thing for everybody. This is the everywoman, here she is.’ And I did it, and it was the most scared I’ve ever been, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I’d do it again tomorrow.”