the Great Depression of the 1930s, the American people, desperately in need of
relief from fears about the future, turned for escape to movie stars Fred Astaire
and Ginger Rogers for champagne and chiffon, horseracing icon, Seabiscuit, for
inspiration and heart, and heavyweight boxer, Joe Louis, for action and grace.
Similarly, Americans in 2006, with different fears about the future,
also look for escape. No longer admired by the rest of the world, vulnerable to
attack from within and without, and helpless to prevent greedy fingers from emptying
our pockets faster than Streisand can schedule another comeback tour, we need
to get away from it all.
To whom do we turn today for solace, now that
movie musicals, star horses, and the Brown Bomber are gone? Easy. We're turning
in droves to two proven comfort givers, dogs and food.
is being gobbled up by millions of viewers of National Geographic's "Dog Whisperer,"
Cesar Millan, and the Food Network's Rachael Ray.
public is avidly behind both contemporary stars, each of whom has a book on the
best-seller lists. "Cesar's Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding
and Correcting Common Dog Problems," and "Rachael Ray 365: No Repeats -- A Year
of Deliciously Different Dinners (A 30-Minute Meal Cookbook)."
|America is tuning
out, and turning on to dogs and food.
In addition to best sellers, both
icons have hit TV shows, and Cesar Millan has a dozen DVDs on the best-seller
lists, while Rachael Ray has several shows on Food Network: 30 Minute Meals, $40
a Day, Inside Dish, and Tasty Travels, plus ten cookbooks, cookware, and a popular
magazine, "Every Day With Rachael Ray," published by Readers Digest. One is American
by birth, the other by choice.
Millan, who, according to the May 22nd issue of The New Yorker, crawled across
the border 14 years ago, has no formal trainer training. He taught himself about
dogs while he was growing up on his grandfather's farm in Sinaloa, Mexico. As
a child, he was called "el Perrero," the "dog boy." He patiently watched and studied
dogs' behavior until he was able to imagine himself inside the dog's head, and
could anticipate the dog's next move, as well as how to control it. That was the
birth of National Geographic's Dog Whisperer.
Whisperer with Cesar Millan Vol. I
Whisperer with Cesar Millan Vol. II
|Author Malcolm Gladwell's
Profile on Cesar Millan for The New Yorker, called "What the Dog Saw: Cesar Millan
and the Movements of Mastery" likens Cesar's physical movements to both politics
and dancing. The article rhapsodizes over similarities between Millan and "movement
masters" Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, and the grace of Millan's movements as
studied by Karen Bradley, head of the graduate dance program at the University
of Maryland. Cesar thought he was a dog whisperer but he might really be Barishnikov.
hooked on his hit show watch Cesar Millano train the owners, more than the dogs.
There are no bad Rottweilers, no bad Pit Bulls, and no bad Chihauhaus, just owners
who often allow their dogs get away with running the whole show, like a spoiled
child. In Mexico, a person is a person and a dog is a dog. Then Cesar came along
and pointed out the reason why dogs should be dogs: there's only one pack leader
and that job rightly belongs to the person who pays the rent, and that's rarely
When this fact is accepted by owners, their pet problems are pretty
much solved. Ask Oprah. She called Cesar's 911 for help with her dog, Sophie,
who had issues with other dogs. Oprah worked hard to earn her new tee shirt from
Cesar, which loudly proclaims Oprah "Pack Leader." Sophie's much better behaved
now that she's been socialized by a pack of Cesar's dogs.
the Dog Psychology Center in South Central Los Angeles, where troubled dogs, like
those rescued in the wake of Katrina whose owners have not yet been found, can
learn to get along with each other while the search for their owners continues.
Though Cesar is generous with hugs for his clients, the kisses are reserved for
his wife, Illusion.
Cesar's professional attention is not required for Rachael Ray's beloved pit bull,
IsaBoo, they have something else in common. Rachael has also helped Oprah, giving
her some 30-minute meal tips. Called the "Kitchen Queen" by fans and the media,
Rachael Ray's winning personality is closer to quick-witted, warm Julia Child
than to aloof, cool Martha Stewart.
A famous episode of Julia Child's
PBS series shows the master chef dropping a chicken on the floor, and an episode
of Rachael Ray's Food Network series shows her shaking a bottle of A1 sauce; the
top falls off and the contents shoot across the kitchen. "Don't try this at home,"
laughs Rachael, a master of the quick save. Accidents happen in real life and
it's refreshing to see no cover-up on TV shows. Just like home.
easy, running patter is fast, funny, and continues as she piles up ingredients
chin high from cabinet to counter. This no-frills approach is enormously endearing.
She's one of us, even if she does chop veggies faster. She describes the aroma
and taste of each ingredient, and her presentation of the finished meal is excellent.
Her presentation of herself is excellent, too. She doesn't dress as
though Rodeo Drive is outside her door; she dresses like real people do, and sometimes,
she's even (gasp) a little overweight. Unlike most television chefs with state-of-the-art
cooking equipment at eye level, she has to bend down to use her oven, just like
regular people with regular ovens.
According to her magazine's website,
Ray comes from a long line of cooks. Her maternal grandfather grew and cooked
everything for his family of 12, and her dad's family was steeped in the food-rich
traditions of Louisiana. The Rays owned a family restaurant on Cape Cod, eventually
relocating to upstate New York, where her mother went to work as food supervisor
for a restaurant chain. "I was surrounded by all different styles of cooking and
worked in the food service industry in just about every capacity you can imagine."
Rachael landed at Macy's Marketplace in New York, first at the candy
counter, then as the manager of the Fresh Foods Department. She helped open Agata
& Valentina, a prestigious New York gourmet market, where she was store manager
Being on New York's fast track wasn't as appealing to Ray
as the Adirondacks had been, so she went back home, and managed pubs and restaurants
at Lake George's very upscale Sagamore resort.
Rachael was recruited
by Cowan & Lobel, a large gourmet market in New York's state capital, Albany,
as food buyer, and she added to that the job of chef. To increase sales during
the holidays, Ray began a series of cooking classes, which quickly became a happening.
The cooking course taught thirty "30-Minute Mediterranean Meals," and became so
popular that the local media sent a feature reporter to cover the phenomenon.
The following week, WRGB-TV/CBS Albany-Schenectady, approached Ray about
doing a weekly segment, 30-Minute Meals, for the evening news. Nominated for two
regional Emmys the first year, the show was a major success. Her companion cookbook
sold 10,000 copies locally over the holidays.
"My life has been a total
accident, a very happy, wonderful accident that I didn't and couldn't have planned,"
says Ray. Despite her growing celebrity, she is determined to stay grounded, and
still lives with her family in a cabin in the Adirondacks.
We might still
be afraid of the future but, with Americans like Cesar Millan and Rachael Ray,
we're learning how to be pack-leading, home-cooking, less-fearful escape artists.
Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
Balloon In Cactus" > June
20, 2006 column