Rachael Ray maintains school ties

LAKE GEORGE – Rachael Ray has welcomed countless celebrities to her popular television cooking show, from Carol Burnett to former President Bill Clinton.

No matter who they are, her most important goal is making them feel right at home.

The Lake George High School graduate discussed this and other topics at her alma mater Friday before taking center stage for her annual benefit to raise money for local scholarships and other school needs.

“We like people who are famous to forget they’re famous while they’re there and let us know how they’re more like us,” Ray said of her television program. “Our show treats them differently. We really like to get to know people over a period of time.”

Recently, for example, actress Salma Hayek paid a visit, but instead of talking about her latest movie, Ray got the actress to discuss her line of skin care products and why they’re so important to her.

“I love sitting down and seeing what I can learn from people,” she said.

Ray said she’s still learning her way around her show’s large, new studio.

“I still don’t know where everything is,” she said, smiling. “I still look in the wrong drawers. It’s like moving into a new house.”

This week, she’s spending a well-deserved “spring break” at her Luzerne home before tackling a new slate of broadcast, publishing and charitable commitments.

She and her husband recently released a new book, “My Year in Meals,” and they’re currently working on part two.

“It’s a solid year of everything we did in our home,” Ray said. “It was a really fun project.”

Charitable causes are close to her heart. Her Yum-o! initiative’s goal is to empower kids and their families to develop healthy relationships with food and cooking. More than $3.5 million has already been raised to fight childhood obesity, provide scholarships and end hunger.

Ray has worked closely with first lady Michelle Obama on such efforts, too.

In addition, Ray is concerned about the plight of local schools during tough economic times, which explains her ongoing commitment to Lake George.

Money from the benefit show, held in cooperation with the Lake George Alumni Association, provides 10 $1,000 scholarships to Lake George graduates in their second year of college. In addition, the association has donated $500 to Ray’s Yum-o! Foundation and $100 to the school Media Club.

“We have also contributed grants to individual students and programs throughout the year, such as Future Leaders of America, global classroom equipment, an elementary school library upgrade to meet new state standards and the French immersion weekend,” said Pam Morin, association spokeswoman.

“I only wish that every public school had something that could help them out,” Ray said. “A little bit of money goes a long way. When I was a kid, we didn’t want for anything. Now, schools have to make tough decisions.”

She’s risen to great heights but keeps in close touch with her roots.

“Whenever I have 36 hours off or more, I’m home,” Ray said. “I live here. This is my home. Nothing on the planet that I’ve seen feels better to me than here in the Adirondacks.”