Yes, she is a bit younger than the Rachael Ray you see on the Food Network, and she does have golden blond hair. But if you dare to question 10-year-old Rachael Ray of Fremont about her identity, you are likely to get an earful.
"I AM Rachael Ray. I have a birth certificate to prove it!"
Not only does she have proof of her name, she also has a snapshot of the day she met the brown-haired Rachael Ray face to face.
"It was so funny. She writes, 'To Rachael Ray,' then she realizes it's her own name," Rachael says with a giggle. "She looks up, and she goes, 'Shut up! Is that your real name?'"
Since Rachael was born years before the cooking show host hit the big time, she definitely wasn't named after Rachael Ray, and she's used to getting yak-back about her name. Thankfully, our Rachael is a fan of the cooking show host. When she was 7, she even had a Rachael Ray birthday party. Guests dressed as chefs and got little cookbooks filled with family recipes for things such as cheeseburger soup.
And since she is a cook, when the new "Rachael Ray Yum-O! The Family Cookbook" ($22.50, Potter Books) arrived, it made perfect sense to appoint our East Bay Rachael to cook up a handful of the recipes to see if the book is worth the money.
Assisting in her Fremont kitchen are friends Alasha Dunn, 9; Megan Liebig, 11; and Isolina Zambrana, 9, all seasoned cooks who have made more than a few yummy things to eat in their own kitchens.
The afternoon starts out with a giggle and a lot of silliness, but then hunger sets in, spurring our young chefs to action. Rachael divides her workers into teams and assigns recipes. It looks like a great plan.
"Where's the chicken broth? What is chicken broth?" asks Megan.
"What is a skillet?" asks another.
After a little deciphering and decoding, the four are on track. Two are quickly dumping ingredients into a pan for soup while the other two clatter for pans to cook up their That's Shallota Flavor Spaghetti. They put some water on to boil, then stare at the shallots, puzzled.
"So we cut these all up and put them in the pan?" Rachael says, semiconvincingly. She's not quite sure what a shallot is or how to cut it, but she's game — until she cuts into the first one.
"Eeeew. Oh. Uh!! This smells. This is. Oh," she says. "How many of these do we have to cut?" Rachael forges ahead, haphazardly chopping tiny bits of onion away from the whole. Her partner Isolina does the same, but with a bit more gusto. But three minutes into the job, they are overwhelmed.
"Uhhhh. I can't do this! Ow, ow, ow," says Isolina. Her eyes are stinging with tears. Rachael is so skunked out by the smell of raw onion that she's backed across the kitchen.
"We. Need. Help," she bellows to the others, who are quite busy redecorating the entire kitchen with shreds of cheese meant for their taco soup.
"Here, you hold (the grater) and I'll push the cheese,'' Megan suggests. She pushes and a tiny bit of cheese comes out of the holes. "This is not working!" Megan exclaims, waving the shredder in the air for emphasis — sending cheese bits flying.
"OK, I'll hold it and you try," Alasha offers. It works, except that the shredder isn't exactly centered on the dish. Oblivious, the team continues to grate — with the bulk of their cheese falling to the floor — until one of our chefs takes a step closer to the counter. "Yuk! That's where our cheese went!" Megan says. "This is so gross. I'm stepping on cheese. It's sticking to my feet!"
Cheesy feet, however, doesn't stop this team, which has completed one recipe, and is ready to start another. They abandon their cheesy mess and head to a clean spot in the kitchen to start prepping berries for their parfaits.
As they whack nearly a third off the top of each strawberry — Who needs a huller, anyway? — and dice up the remains, they glance at the continuing distress from the shallot corner and offer assistance.
"Here, put these on your eyes. It feels good," Alasha tells them, offering strawberry ends. The shallot team giggles but gives it a try. "It works! It really does!" Rachael says. There remains one small problem, however. If their hands are busy pressing strawberries to their eyes, they have no hands left to complete their shallot caper.
The hungry team brainstorms. "Sunglasses!" Rachael says, grabbing a pair and putting them on. "I look cool!" Even better, Rachael's mom, Lisa Ray, emerges with a set of swim goggles.
Goggles in place, Isolina takes the lead, reducing the mound of purple of shallots to bits as our young Rachael disappears into the other room, overwhelmed by the chaos. Being a kitchen star is tough work.
Meanwhile, the breakfast parfait-taco soup team shows signs of weariness. "Hey, we've done two recipes and you guys haven't even done one," Megan throws out. When she gets no response, she just keeps talking.
"Here's a quiz!" she shouts to the team. "What attracts water more? A wet sponge or a dry sponge?" She pauses, then offers the answer. "A wet one because water attracts water."
Shallots are finally headed toward the pan — but not without a teamwide chant and ceremonial dousing of what the girls call "eeee-vuuuu!"
It's two hours into the cooking adventure and the team has one last recipe to tackle — chicken fingers.
Megan and Alasha take on the mammoth task of grinding 3 tablespoons of garlic flakes. One holds the spoon over the sink, the other grinds the flakes. Even though half the spice is falling into the wet sink, the two forge on, undaunted.
"Man, this is taking a long time," Megan exclaims, trying to be patient with Alasha's persistent twisting of the grinder. "It doesn't look like we are going to have enough," she says, halfway through the task. "What are we going to do?" A hungry bystander can't bear to keep her mouth shut any longer. "Do you think maybe you should do that over a plate?" The suggestion is welcomed and the task completed in about 2 minutes.
Tenders make their way to the oven as the team begs Rachael to approve a few shortcuts — they nix the onions for the dip, decide carrot sticks will be carrot chunks. And the celery ribs? Never mind.
"I'll tell you one thing," Megan says. "These aren't 30-minute meals!" After about 2½ hours of cooking, the four are seated at the table, ready to evaluate their work — and the other Rachael's recipes. First, they dig in to the soup. It's a hit.
"This was the easiest one and it's so good. I'm making this again," Isolina says. Second up is the pasta. The girls take two bites before Isolina heads into the kitchen for more cheese. "It just tastes plain. Like noodles. This is not my favorite thing." The tenders are devoured, the parfaits downed top to bottom.
Tummies full, the young cooks sneak out of the kitchen into the backyard, hoping the explosion of strawberry hulls, cheese, bits of shallot and spatters of yogurt will be magically cleaned up. Much to their disappointment, it doesn't happen.
"Do we have to do the dishes?" they ask. Yes, they must, and they do, with Alasha taking the lead, plowing through countless dirty pots, pans, plates, cups and more.
Reach Jolene Thym at 510-353-7008 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.