Review: Rachael Ray Is a Spoonful of Sugar

But PEOPLE's critic says the chef needs to adjust the ingredients in her new show

Rachael Ray, TV queen of 30-minute meals, best-selling author and cover girl for her own lifestyle magazine, has her hand in a brand new pie – an hourlong syndicated talk-show, Rachael Ray, produced by Oprah Winfrey’s company, that debuted today.

The first hour, actually, wasn’t so much a pie as a large, untamed salad spilling over the plate. You could imagine the stray greens tumbling onto rival Martha Stewart’s lap, and Stewart gingerly disposing of the offending leaves. Tasty in parts, yes, but not yummo. Maybe Ray needs to adjust the ingredients.

Cups and Cups of E.O.R (Essence of Ray)
With her long, dark hair and round, girlish face, Ray looks like a cross between Kelly Ripa and Mary-Louise Parker, although her energy level exceeds even Ripa’s. She completed two timed recipes with a comfortable margin of seconds to go. I’m surprised she didn’t execute them both instantaneously like a many-armed goddess. There’s nothing not to like about someone so up, so open-faced, so laughing, so cute, so real. The question is: What do you do with all that? As my Italian grandmother would say, we all love it, but there’s a pest in pesto. (No, she didn’t really say that.)

A Touch of Julia
Well, the cooking segments I liked a lot. Ray made a snack wrapping salami, sundried tomatoes and cheese spread around a pretzel stick – maybe it’s good? Anyway, you have to admire her nerve. She abandoned her famous 30-minute meal for a 7-minute dish of chicken and salad. But presentation’s not her thing, apparently, because on TV the meal looked like roadkill under arugula. Still, her cooking style is her own – frantic, a bit sloppy and fun. You can understand why she’s such a hit – it’s a Julia Child blitheness, only trickled down to insta-dinner.

Diane, Underdone
Oprah herself is scheduled to drop by this week, but the show’s first celebrity guest was Diane Sawyer. Sawyer presented Ray with a pair of superthin socks to slip on her feet at nighttime events, in case her toesies get cold, but Ray referred to them as “big” and “fluffy.” I found this oddly annoying. Sawyer was very precise about the socks being thin, and a viewer could see they were thin. We need to pay attention to our celebrity guests. You can bet if Oprah gave Ray a pair of kid gloves she wouldn’t call them oven mitts.

Heart a la Carte
Part of the talk-show mandate today is that the host/hostess should not merely kill a few minutes in a viewer’s day but also validate and fulfill and change people’s lives. Ray took one viewer skydiving – this had been the woman’s lifelong fear – and sure enough, the woman stood before the audience afterward and testified that all her terrors were gone, overcome and overwhelmed by Ray’s can-do philosophy. Urp.

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