Friday, November 20, 2009

Martha vs. Rachael – And The Winner Is…

Wait a second. It’s not that easy. In an interview on Nightline last night with Cynthia McFadden, Martha Stewart had some not very nice things to say about Rachael Ray. The problem is that every single one of them was true. AND Rachael often says them herself.

Martha expressed exactly what I’ve always said about Rachael. She called her “an entertainer”, while she considers herself “a teacher”. Martha made the excellent point that you want your teacher always to be perfect. You don’t want to learn French from someone with a bad accent, for example. True.

I’ve said this over and over - if you took the cooking away from Rachael Ray, I would have no problem with her. I think she’s charming, friendly and connects beautifully with an audience. She’s a real “entertainer”, but I run from the room when she gets behind the stove.

Why does this remind a little of another teacher/upstart duo? Except in that case, Julia was the beloved, warm-hearted, fun-loving but oh so knowledgeable teacher and Julie was the snarly wanna-be, who some thought shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath.

Martha and Rachael are far more equal than that, but, really, this is so fascinating because the two of them are at completely opposite ends of the spectrum. Yet both are wildly successful. I can’t imagine the diehard fans of either superstar supporting the other one.

Another thing that Martha called Rachael out on is something that also irritates me – that Rachael refuses to bake. She always says it’s too complicated, that she’s a cook, not a chef, yada, yada, yada.

My feeling is if someone can work like a dog putting together a gazillion dollar empire than she can work a KitchenAid and produce a cake. My mother used to say if you can read, you can cook (thanks A LOT for that, Mom!), but it is somewhat true. And if you have SOME kitchen skills, putting together an easy baked good is not beyond anyone, even Rachael Ray. I get irritated by her selling herself short and settling for such mediocrity.

Martha also complained that Rachael’s latest book is just a rehash of some of her old recipes. Martha said to Cynthia, “That’s not good enough for me.” When SHE does a book, she wants it to be “unique and lasting, something that will really fulfill a need in someone’s library.” She wants it be worthy of a place on your bookshelf.

And yet, one can’t argue with the millions and millions of books that Rachael has sold of these one note, heavily meat-based recipes that people can’t seem to get enough of.

A friend said to me the other day that AT LEAST RR has gotten a lot of people to actually cook. These same folks would probably be buying convenience meals or getting take-out. THAT is true. The ONE good thing about Rachael’s cooking is that she uses real food and, thankfully, hasn’t come out with any boxes or mixes (like Martha is developing), at least not yet. Rachael just has her beach blanket sized, fire hazard dish towel line, along with every other possible kitchen accoutrement, including my favorite - where to put your garbage.

Anyway…as an adjunct to Cynthia’s piece on Martha, Cynthia interviewed Rachael, who must have thought it would be a couple of soft questions about having had Martha on her show. She started out by saying that Martha “killed it. She was hysterical”.

THEN Cynthia told Rachael what Martha had to say about her. After just a split second of looking like a deer in the headlights (or the headlines, in this case) Rachael came out with her standard mantra. If you can’t beat ‘em, just agree. And that’s what she did.

Rachael agreed with every single word that Martha said - that the plain truth IS that Martha’s skill set is far beyond her own. She said “Why would that make me mad?” to Cynthia’s constant peppering her with questions. She said Martha was just being honest, that SHE (Rachael) herself would rather have a meal cooked by Martha than eat her own food.

I think, more than anything, what Martha suffered from was a stunning lack of good manners and Rachael exhibited tremendous grace when asked about Martha’s comments. Even though I’ve seen her react to criticism this way before, I am still amazed by Rachael’s even-temperedness on the subject. AND it didn’t help that Martha’s attitude during the entire interview was superior smugness. I know people say she’s impossible, but I’ve always admired her tenacity and work ethic - something that she and RR have in common, by the way.

So who won this smack down? Hands down, The Queen of Mean was bested by the Patroness of the Garbage Bowl. Martha should really learn that if you don’t have anything nice to say, then you should just button it up.


Michele said...

I was really disappointed in her interview. Instead of applauding RR for all the people she got behind a stove by teaching them that cooking is accessable (unlike MS who makes it seem so difficult, she had to put her down. It seemed so mean that she would do that. It was okay for her to go on her show and promote her book but she still had to have that "i'm better than you" attitude. She even said in her interview, does Rachael have a garden, I don't think she has a garden. So what! I also don't think it's a big deal that she doesn't bake. Maybe she just doesn't care to. You know? I respect that she is honest and is who she says she is. At least she never went to jail.

Tom said...

You hit it exactly right, Sue. If Martha had said that she liked the way Rachael connects with viewers, that in Martha's "teacher" role she can be too pedantic and unyielding, she would have gone a long way toward mitigating her smarminess and still made her points.

But rather than Julie and Julia, it reminds me (on a much lower level) of all the sniping that Madeline Kamman and Elizabeth David did about Julia Child. Both said a lot of nasty things about her and neither had one tenth the charm or personality that Julia did.

fran said...

Bingo! Your last two paragraphs said it all very well.
Believe it or not I do like them both but they cannot truly be compared. It's like apples and oranges and each of them has her own strengths and weakness. They both laugh all the way to the bank but RR sees no need to play dirty with the diva. Brava!

Anonymous said...

I actually saw an episode of Martha week or so ago (one of the few times I have ever turned the TV on in the morning). Rachael was on, and Martha was teaching her how to bake an apple pie for Thanksgiving. She was kind of snotty to her; Rachael was using cookie cutters to cut leaves for the top of the pie, and called them "dudes" (as in, "should I put these dudes on top?"). Martha said "If I ever talk like you my staff should tape my mouth shut." It may not have been THAT harsh, but it was kind of rude, though kind of funny.

Anyway, I wonder if this Nightline interview was on before or after that episode filmed. If it was BEFORE, then maybe Martha invited her on and taught her to bake kind of as a "that interview came out ruder than I intended." If it was after, though, then Martha kind of sucks.

DebCarol said...

Great review on this Sue. I think the world is big enough for both Rachael and Martha. Both are wildly successful at what they do and have their own fan bases. The one thing I've never forgotten about Martha was a long ago show where she was showing how to fold fitted sheets so they would look "neat as a pin" in your linencloset. Hilarious. And as for Rachael not baking ~ I actually know alot of people who are great cooks but do not own a cookie sheet or cake pans - they are totally intimidated by baking from scratch. Me, I love it!

Lys said...

You said it perfectly Sue.

I'm not a RR fan, but after seeing her response to Ms. Stewart's remarks, I have a newfound respect for Ms. EVOO. I had the privilege of meeting the Queen of Smarminess (love that word!!! Thx Tom!) during her recent book tour and after having a brief convo with her and watching her wig out over something not being perfectly placed, my response was "What is WRONG with this woman?!?!" Also, remember when Ms. Martha was on Julia Child back in the day. Even then she had that better than thou attitude with Julia. But, then again, I've come to accept that Martha has issues. Not everything is perfect every single time.

Sue said...

Hi Tom,
Thanks. I didn't know that gossip about those folks and Julia. The nerve! Somehow I think Julia had a pretty thick skin, but how someone could not appreciate her, I'll never understand.

Hi Michele,
Martha did come off so badly. And even if she thought all those things, it did her absolutely no good to say them. It's almost like Martha can't help herself.

Hi Amy,
No, the interview with Martha was taped after she was on Rachael Ray. I wish I had seen it. It does sound like vintage Martha. But to talk so disparagingly about RR afterwards AND have Rachael be so completely sanguine about it was really striking.

Good point about Martha and RR being able to coexist.

I REMEMBER THAT SHOW (!!!) about folding the bottom sheet and I've been trying to do it like that ever since and never once have I succeeded!

Hi Fran,
THAT is true that they are in two different spheres.

I also really respected Rachael's reaction and I'm not a Rachael lover, but she was so poised and down to earth as she answered.

Wow, somehow that story doesn't surprise me, but it DOES amaze me. What a pill!