Rachael Ray on How She and Husband Supported Each Other After House Fire: 'We Always Come Back to Grateful'

"We're like Moonstruck over here," Rachael Ray tells PEOPLE, of her relationship with husband John Cusimano. "We just keep saying, 'Stop your whining and snap out of it.'"

rachael ray and husband
Photo: Silja Magg

Rachael Ray and her husband, John Cusimano, marked their 16th wedding anniversary this month — a milestone for any couple, but especially worth celebrating considering all the life difficulties thrown towards the couple this year.

"We balance each other, we always have," the TV chef and author, 53, tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week's issue, where she's part of PEOPLE's 50 Food Faves package. "We knew we'd get through this together."

Ray's upcoming book, This Must Be the Place (out Nov. 9 and titled after the 1983 Talking Heads song) chronicles the ups and downs she had throughout the toughest year of the pandemic, starting with her decision to do her self-titled syndicated talk show from her home in Lake Luzerne, N.Y. — something she was initially terrified of doing because her upstate house had become a refuge from the public eye.

"Our home was a light switch where we would turn off from work mode and deal with our lives," Rays says. "We had lots of lovely opportunities that were very generous from architectural magazines and all sorts of folks wanting to come and be inside of our home, but for years, we had denied people access to it, and curated it as a quiet, special space. I would write, and read; work on my photography or spend time literally homemaking for my family or close friends. My husband, he's a lawyer by day but is a musician, so would spend all day in his studio. It was our little world to just be us. Then all of a sudden, we had to let everyone in."

As difficult as that was, Cusimano faced a challenge of his own: helping Ray producer her at-home episodes of The Rachael Ray Show.

"Martin Scors-lame-y is what we called him," Ray teased. "He never set out to work in television. He didn't want to be a camera person or a lighting director or all the different jobs he has to fill here now. That's been a challenge for him."

There would be bigger challenges along the way, though.

In May of that year, the couple's cherished 15-year-old pit bull, Isaboo, died. Then last August, their home — the one Ray had designed from scratch 15 years earlier and long tried to protect from the public — completely burned to the ground, the result of a fire ember that came out of the home's chimney and landed on the roof.

It took them a full year to rebuild. Throughout it, and all of the year's other obstacles, Ray and Cusimano, 53, remained a united force to get to the other side.

"We have volatile personalities but we're both very practical. too," she says. "That's the lawyer side of him and the domestic side of me. We're like, 'These are the things that must be accomplished today. And we will get to this only by doing what work is necessary.'"

"John and I didn't meet until later in life, and didn't get married until we were almost 40," Ray says. "We knew who we were. We've always been that way, for 20 years. We don't take it too much to heart when one person just has to vent or blow up. We're very good at being quiet also, with each other. We don't look for there to be constant chatter. And we're very good with giving each other space to work on our passions. We're kind of autonomous and I think, in many ways, we were more uniquely prepared for this pandemic."

But it was their ability to stay positive, even during the harshest of circumstances, that really helped them survive.

"When you're left at home alone for too long, you start to lose a little perspective. You can get tunnel vision and think, 'Everything's revolving around us and our little problems.' But there are so much worse positions we could be in," Ray says. "I'm alive. I have a roof over my head. I have a job. There are people all over the food industry who have suffered and don't know what to do. Not to mention the millions of people who have died."

"At the end of the day, John and I, we always come back to grateful. Some days are different than others, but we try to say, 'Okay, here's the new plan,' even when we get down," Ray continues — joking, "We're like Moonstruck over here. We just keep saying, 'Stop your whining and snap out of it.' "

For more on Rachael Ray, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE — on newsstands Friday.

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