We honestly don’t know what more publicity Martha Stewart needs. Or why she has been on TV shows hawking maybe her 500th book of domestic crafty/wedding cakes/cupcakes/papier-mache cabinets or whatever it is that she pays professional photographers the big bucks to capture. We also don’t know why she decided to submit to a full-length interview with ABC’s Cynthia McFadden on “Nightline”. But there she was, in all her imperious glory, tight-faced sometimes, but seemingly not without some things to say.
But let’s back up a bit first. To a couple of weeks back, in fact. Martha decided –in what seemed like an unprecedented move, if you believed the ads that were hyping this—to go on the Rachael Ray show, and at the same time, Rachael returned the favor two days later, on the Martha Stewart show. Ray’s show, produced by Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Media, is far and away more popular than Martha’s somewhat more staid program –and this year Ray just snagged a Daytime Emmy for her show to boot.
With exuberance and reverence fit for a queen, Ray welcomed Stewart on her show and promptly thanked her for paving the way for people like her to also do a similar-themed talk show. Martha was of course respectful and grateful, but it seemed that for all their niceties on stage, these were two egos and personalities that were about to clash loudly. And they did –in part: taking a page out of Stewart’s own show, Ray took phone calls from viewers in a nearby supermarket while the two hostesses sat there ready to answer. Ostensibly these were calls for Martha, the guest, but it wasn’t all that surprising that a screeching Ray, even with vocal cord surgery that improved her distinct hoarseness, trampled all over the question even before an almost catatonically demure Stewart could open her mouth.
Standing with her shopping cart near the cheese section, a viewer asked what kinds of cheeses she should get for a fondue party. Ray quickly mentioned a good Gruyere while Stewart referred her to an Appenzeller, as if there is really much difference between the two. (OK, there is, but that’s not the point!) It was an uncomfortable segment. On one level Ray genuflected and deferred virtually all wisdom to Stewart while Stewart never really warmed to Ray’s oppressive feel-good giggles and aw-shucks-look-at-me-I’m-famous mugging and screaming she does on her show.
But nowhere was this match made in hell more evident than when Ray visited the “Martha Stewart Show” and participated in the cooking segment. It involved baking an apple pie, something that Martha was specifically going to teach Rachael. “Rachael Ray” viewers know that Rachael has never baked anything resembling a pastry, cake or pie on her show because of a self-professed aversion to baking; she just sucks at I, and she rightly admits it. All the more reason, then, for the Domestic Goddess to teach her to do what really is a pretty simple, and traditionally American of all dishes.
Martha is bad enough at standing side by side people and instructing them: she towers over too much and is far tooimpatient. I think there was a segment on “Today” when Meredith Viera simply yelled at Stewart. Here, Stewart keptbutting in on Ray as she rolled out the pastry dough, criticizing this and that, and Ray giggling all the while and admitting that she was learning how to do this.
What was notable is that after a while, Ray became so preoccupied with what she was doing that for the first time ever, she shut her mouth and focused on the task at hand. The deep dish apple pie that emerged was not a thing of beauty, but it got done and Martha had officially given the new whippersnapper a baking lesson, just in time for the holidays (Ray promised she would do it again with her family for Thanksgiving) and just in time to end the segment. After some quick air-kisses, Rachael had to go.
Let’s fast forward now to the Cynthia McFadden interview. It seems that there may have been a bit more cattiness on both Ray/Stewart appearances than were captured on TV. Despite all the genuflections and warm hugs, it’s clear that Stewart doesn’t think highly of Ray because well, Ray isn’t all that authentic, nor is she an accomplished cook. In this clip from the interview, Stewart is asked about Ray. Stewart bristles a bit, then offers this damning critique.
So Ray is an entertainer who writes books cobbled from old recipes, which don’t merit a place in anyone’s library because she isn’t a teacher (like Stewart) and worse, she isn’t even a real cook with any substance. I wonder if Ray’s apple pie from the previous week really was that bad. Clearly Stewart doesn’t appreciate Ray’s attempts at fashioning herself as some kind of chef in the kitchen when Stewart has been ruling the roost for the better part of the last generation. The kicker here is this: Ray, reached for her comments about Stewart’s remarks, agreed with her!
“Why would I be mad?”, said Ray to ABC News. “Her skill set is far beyond mine. That’s simply the reality of it. That doesn’t mean what I do isn’t important, too. I don’t consider it needling. I really just think she’s being honest. She does have a better skill set than I do when it comes to producing a beautiful, perfect, high quality meal. I’d rather eat at Martha’s than at mine, too.”
And there you have it. Not just a snarky, irritated put-down by the seasoned ex-con, she the author of many books you’d want to have in a library and chair of own media empire, Omni Design, but an admission by the younger woman who has arrived at the table way too late and not even blessed with any measurable skills. Ray wears her inabilities with a badge, really, as if it’s OK to make “30 Minute Meals” (her Food Network show that launched her), dress up burgers, stews and pasta bakes, slather EVOO on everything, and continually giggle for the camera at every turn. Sadly, we have allowed our own conceptions of good cooking to be watered down. We watch Rachael because we’re lazy to cook. We watch Rachael because we can’t be bothered to de-bone a chicken or make a chiffonade of our basil.
You’d think that Stewart was finished eviscerating people this week. She wasn’t. She found another fraud to vilify. It seems that in our 24-hour news cycle culture, we need to set up catfights between popular women by asking one of them what she thinks of the other, even when you would not expect an opinion because they don’t share anything in common. Makes sense, right? So why did CNN have to ask Martha Stewart, arriving at a function, what her take was on the current Sarah Palin “Going Rogue” book tour? We could write a piece comparing the frailties of the two empty-suits, Sarah Palin and Rachael Ray, and believe us: she has sent out a recipe for Moose Stew (we’re not making this up) and one for an Alaskan Crab Meat Sandwich. (See? She makes sandwiches –or “sammies”—just like Rach’!)these two bubbly brunettes probably have more in common than you might expect. But there’s something a little refreshing, or maybe surprising, depending on how you feel, about Martha Stewart tossing out a harsh appraisal of the former Vice Presidential candidate to a CNN microphone. What did Sarah Palin do to her, besides compete for the nation’s media attention on competing press tours? Can Palin cook? Can she bake? Well,
Asked why Sarah Palin was such a polarizing figure, Stewart remarked that she was a “boring” but “dangerous”and “confused” person, and that “anyone like that in government is a real problem”. Who knew Martha had a political axe to grind? Who knew she could call ‘em as she sees them, and spot what it is that millions of Americans (or the 600,000 copies of books sold thus far) seem incapable of understanding. Like Rachael Ray, Palin trades on bounciness, winks and some good foundation, thinking that these alone will carry them through whatever obstacle they face.
To the rest of us, Martha Stewart included, we bristle at the notion that mediocrity is allowed to achieve fame once again. Ray is content to ham it up with segments about fashion makeovers and chili cook-offs. Palin was one step away from the Presidency, and who knows what her plans are for 2012. Stewart is simply being as honest as she can be, even saying that she couldn’t be paid to watch any of Palin’s speeches. With all those years of experience as a media tycoon and all that diva attitude, you’d think Stewart could be forgiven for just speaking her mind once in a while. But now let’s add spotting a phony when she sees one to the formidable list of her accomplishments.