The Rachael Ray Show

Seven years ago, I waited eight hours in line for Rachael Ray’s autograph. 

When my best friend and I eagerly made it to the front of the line, Just in Time cookbook in hand, we learned that the crowd was so big that it was autograph only–no photos. Just as I began to rack my brain for ideas, I was face-to-face with my culinary hero. Out of my mouth came an unexpectedly loud, “Hey Rach!” She smiled at me. I continued. “I know you’re not taking pictures right now, but my friend and I have been here since 6 o’clock this morning and I’m wondering–if I recite the intro to 30 Minute Meals for you, will you snap a quick photo with us?”

Just as I silently started to practice the mantra (which I suddenly realized I knew by heart–Hi there, I’m Rachael Ray and I make 30 minute meals. Now that means in the time it takes you to watch this program…) Rachael laughs and says, “How about I just take a picture with you guys anyway.”

That was the first day Rachael Ray changed my life.

It would not be the last.

The above video is a slideshow of my appearance this week on Rachael’s 1,500th show. Needless to say, after my meet-and-greet with the celebrity chef back in 2007, our lives once again intertwined in a much more powerful way. In November 2013 after receiving a text from my daytime-television-watching grandmother, I entered the Rachael Ray Great American Cookbook Competition–along with nearly 1,000 others nationwide. My journey began and ended with a breakfast sandwich I called The Tin Foil Surprise.

Tin Foil Surprise Wrapped

I made my way from the top 20, to the top 10, to the top 5. I ended up in this makeup chair in New York City. It was my very first ever appearance on national television (a dream I had been chasing since childhood–hence the expression on my face).



Several days of competition later, and I found myself in the final two.

Fan, Rach, and Lauren

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One week later, I returned to New York to film the finale where I ultimately won the life changing reward of a cookbook contract published under Rachael Ray Books, an Imprint of the Atria Publishing Group.

Winning Photo of Fanny and Rachael

It has been six months since the above photo was taken, and my life has been a daydream ever since. This experience has made all of my childhood dreams come true. I’ve become somewhat of a familiar face on television. I’m writing my very first cookbook. I’ve gotten to interact with the public in an extraordinary way. A way I never could have imagined would actually come true. In this lifetime, anyways.

Rachael held the cookbook competition to prove that anybody can be a Rachael Ray. Any one of us–with enough optimism, heart, and self belief–can obtain the opportunity to change the world with what they love to do. I am lucky enough to have been given this gift by someone who I have admired through the screen for years.

The best part?

I was invited back to the show for Rachael’s 1,500th episode to tell her exactly that.

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This celebratory episode was jam-packed with surprises for Rachael. When I stepped off of the elevator, I was greeted with a surprise of my very own. “By the way,” says Emily the segment coordinator, “we didn’t want to tell you until now, but we’re putting you in a room with Jacques Pépin and Sunny Anderson.” As I nearly trip over my suitcase, the door swings open and there sits the legendary French chef enjoying a Chocolate Pots de Crème prepared by Rachael’s culinary team. I spit my gum into an empty package of peanut butter crackers and slowly moved into the room.

My first interaction with Jacques was on day one of the cookbook competition.

The Rachael Ray Show

Jacques and Julia Child once had a show together on PBS called Cooking at Home. By pure coincidence–though I’d like to think it’s fate–just before flying to New York in April to compete in the competition, I had been reading Julia’s memoir My Life in France.

I had just finished the chapter on Jacques Pepin.

Several days later on the set of the Rachael Ray show, out walks none other than Jacques Pepin. He proceeded to school me on a proper French omelet and then nudge me with his charming, encouraging grin.


We were now sitting face-to-face in a quiet, empty room.

“Have you ever tried one of these?” He said in his delightful accent and waved a vibrant shiso leaf in my direction. I shook my head and he tore the tender green in half. I bit down on the fragrant prickly herb and it erupted with the spicy pungent flavors of anise and mint.

I suddenly realized I was eating herbs with Jacques Pépin in Rachael Ray’s dressing room.

Please don’t wake up–I wished to myself.

Fanny and Jacques Pepin

Despite wanting to remain cool and carefree, it occurred to me that this might be the only direct chance I ever have to tell this acclaimed chef how he has influenced my life.

How often do you get to tell one of your real life superheroes how much they mean to you?

I shared with him that just before leaving for the cookbook competition last April, I had been reading his friend Julia Child’s memoir. I told him that chefs like him and Julia inspired my late Aunt Annette to cook, and how she passed her copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking to my dad, who would ultimately pass it along to me. He sat there silently listening and I paused to take a breath. I laughed.

“I keep trying to imagine what my Aunt Annette would want me to say if she knew that I was sitting here in a room with you.”

We continued to talk and exchange stories, turkey recipes, and edible experiences. Jacques told me how his kitchen career began at age 13. I told him about my first cookbook based on childhood food memories. Over my shoulder I heard the door creak open. I was certain it was the spirit of Julia Child or my Aunt Annette.

But it wasn’t. They were already there.

fan and jacques

As if the day hadn’t been momentous enough already, in walks one of my most favorite Food Network personalities, Sunny Anderson.

Fanny and Sunny Anderson

I’ve watched Sunny radiate through my television for years. Her show Cooking for Real inspires me and reminds me to enjoy life and food. Not only does she teach viewers to make delicious, down-to-earth cuisine–but she does it with extraordinary flair. Serving confidence with a side of humble topped with a little laughter, she never fails to stimulate joy through the screen. “I’m such a nerd,” she giggles to herself while chopping pears after a series of fruit-related puns.

She’s a North Carolina girl. So am I. I’m certain that’s another serendipitous twist in my story.

Not only had I recently watched Sunny co-host Rachael’s show a number of times, I had also become a big fan of her newer Food Network series The Kitchen where she stars as one of the vivacious hosts. In a soothing, cheerful voice she looks me in the eyes, sticks out her hand and says, “Hi, I’m Sunny. What’s your name?” 

How often do you get to tell one of your real life superheroes how much they mean to you?

“I’m Fanny. I know you, but you don’t know me.” A smile spread across her face. I looked around the room, took in everything and everyone around me, and paused.

Please don’t wake up–I wished to myself.

Sunny, Jacques and Fanny 11.19.14

Fast forward thirty minutes to the hair and makeup room…

beauty room

I’m back in the beauty room with the phenomenal stylists who I now have gotten to know quite well as they have been part of my story since day one. As they curl, brush, and fluff me–we watch the live feed of the show taping on stage just down the hall. Gayle King has just revealed herself as a mystery guest and a video from Oprah comes on. She begins to talk about Rachael’s early career and how she remembers seeing her as a young, energetic personality who just “had it.” As I’m watching these clips of a very young Rachael Ray with a spark in her eye, I begin to see myself in her. The show goes back to live and Rachael says, “Oprah changed the course of my life and my family’s lives.”

Just as Robin is dabbing a shiny smear of rosy gloss onto my bottom lip, I suddenly jolt upright in my chair. It hits me.

“Oh my God. Rachael is my Oprah!”

It’s now minutes to go-time. Sunny and I scurry out of the dressing room and down the hall towards the stage. I quickly turn to the producer and ask, “Should I say anything out there?” Rebecca tells me that it’s all about the reaction and to play it by ear. As I hear Sunny shout my name, I take a deep breath and strut my way onto the stage towards my mentor. I’m immediately embraced in a hug by an enthusiastic, emotional Rachael Ray. I fumble out a quick “Congratulations!” and there’s a moment of silence. Rachael’s reassuring brown eyes stare directly into mine as if she knows I have something to say.

How often do you get to tell one of your real life superheroes how much they mean to you?

The Rachael Ray Show

“You’re my Oprah,” 

Please don’t wake up–I wished to myself.


*Photos and video footage courtesy of the Rachael Ray show.*