Fueling the Creative Flame

Rachel Ray

The bestselling cookbook author is also the host of her own syndicated daytime show, Rachael Ray, as well as Food Network's 30 Minute Meals, Tasty Travels, and $40 a Day.

What did your parents do to encourage creativity?

Everything about my family situation encouraged my creativity. We grew up in the kitchen around people who loved to sit around the table and tell stories. We were given Erector sets, art sets, books, and paints. I grew up in a time before video and computer games.

Who were the adults in your life who most encouraged your creativity?

My grandfather, my mother—there wasn't anybody in the house who didn't love to tell stories or didn't love to be expressive. My entire family is very creative in one way or another. Also being sick inspired my creativity a lot. I had croup and had to live in a tent with a vaporizer for days on end. I would read books and play-act in there.

What materials inspired you most as a child?

I had thousands of crayons and paints. And all my books; I really treated them well and kept them just so. I loved the Erector set. I loved my weaving loom. I loved playing with clay, drawing, making books, and telling stories.

If you could share one piece of advice with a child about being creative, what would that be?

The best thing you can do for yourself is turn off the television and video games. And just go outside.

What do you see as your most creative accomplishment?

My cookbooks because that's how I express myself. That's my outlet. My food is a scrapbook of the places I've been and all the things I've enjoyed over my whole lifetime. It's a way to keep my memories alive and express my point of view about living. Those cookbooks are more like my personal journals than anything else.

My favorite cookbook is my cookbook for children. I think cooking can be so important to a child's self-esteem. I decided to write a book that was respectful and spoke to kids directly rather than talking down to them.

Why do you think encouraging creativity is important, and how has it helped you in your life and career?

It's a pressure valve that keeps you from being too stressed out. You can always take yourself someplace else if you can go someplace in your head. The more popular you get, the more people talk about you and the more closed in your life begins to feel. It could really overwhelm you being in the public eye. Being creative helps you keep that in perspective. It can help you forget about anything that's bugging you that day. And certainly being creative helps you get over writer's block. It's absolutely necessary for my job. Not feeling limited when you look at a blank piece of paper helps. My job would be impossible if I hadn't developed this sort of creative flow as a kid.

How do you keep yourself creative?

I work with a bunch of other creative people at all my different jobs and that's inspiring. I get to travel a lot; that's a constant wellspring. You're being exposed to new things, new people, and new places. And then there's the live audience. I talk to them-it takes a while to shoot each one of those hour-long shows and you talk to people in between. They swap stories with you about places they've been, what they like to eat, and recipes they have. It's gotten easier over the years. The workload's increased but so has the inspiration.

What can parents do to encourage their children's creativity?

Give them toys and gifts that inspire creativity rather than what they put on the list. I made my niece a dress-up trunk one Christmas, She was 5 or 6, and people shot rolls of film that day because she wouldn't stop dressing up. She was half spy, half princess, half doctor. It turned out to be the big hit of the day and it certainly wasn't on the list. I used a vintage trunk that I bought at a secondhand store and old vintage clothes for dress-up. And I bought a few things from the toy store like a doctor kit and put it inside.

My grandfather lived with us for years, and I think that's a good thing for kids-exposing them to different generations. Being allowed to interact with other generations and hear some great storytelling makes for a more open-minded environment.

What do you think are the ideal toys, games, books, activities, and art supplies for promoting creativity?

For kids who can't read yet, pop-up books are phenomenal. There are so many great quality ones now. Also, dress-up trunks, really good pastels, paints, brushes, and charcoals. I would never leave home without my sketchpad and my box of paints and things to draw with. I loved blocks. All that stuff was key. Those are probably all my favorite things.

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