“I’m a big believer in going to a region you like and getting lost on purpose,” Rachael Ray said from her home in Tuscany, Italy. “My mom used to do that with me when I was a kid. We’d drive to Vermont and we’d go left instead of right or down a different street or into a different place. You don’t have to go far, but I completely love the idea of getting lost a little bit. I’m an off-the-beaten-path kind of person and I like places that have reinvented themselves.” Currently in her 16th season of the syndicated “Rachael Ray Show,” she also is the author of the upcoming cookbook, “This Must Be the Place: Dispatches & Food from the Home Front,” which will be out on October 26. Ray, who also has a home in New York, shares her travels with fans on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/RachaelRay), Twitter (https://twitter.com/rachaelray) and TikTok (https://www.tiktok.com/@rachaelray?).
Q: What kind of changes did you have to make during this pandemic?
A: The biggest change was turning my private space – my home in the Adirondacks – into literally a television production studio. It’s just myself and my husband here, so I still feel it’s a special and intimate place for our family. It was very hard to make that adjustment.
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Q: Have your travels helped you create new meals?
A: Of course! Everyone’s day-to-day life helps them create new ideas of likes and dislikes. Just like with music or film, you develop taste in all of these things. I don’t have to go anywhere. I can order new takeout if I’m in New York and be inspired by it and riff on it. It’s like hearing a new song. Every day of my life I get inspired by what people want to eat, or what people think about food, or I try a new dish. That’s how I write. I write literally dozens and dozens, if not more than 100 recipes a month, and that’s only because I enjoy experiencing new food, just like I enjoy listening to new music.
Q: If you had travel plans for 2020 and had to cancel, where were they to?
A: Our anniversary (in Italy) and we were forced to cancel about 80-something people. And, because of COVID, the venue that we use for that function is closed down until January of next year. So that was painful.
Q: What is your favorite vacation destination?
A: Our favorite place to celebrate in America is Austin. Our favorite place to celebrate our marriage is Italy. We chose to buy a property of our own in Tuscany, because that’s where we were married. We love Sicily. We’ve been lucky enough to travel over much of Italy and I’ve been lucky enough – because of my job and my work – to travel all over much of America. I love Detroit, Pittsburgh, Austin, Oakland...
Q: What was the first trip you took as a child?
A: The first trip I remember (was) going to New York City and it literally looking like the inside of a snow globe. Going to the old FAO Schwarz – it was five stories high, and you could play with everything. They had a salon and a tearoom where you could get your hair done and get tea and then go play with literally everything in the world. My mom would let us pick out one toy as our Christmas present.
Q: What's the most important thing you've learned from your travels?
A: Humility. Perspective. And to take a breath. When I’m in another country, especially Italy, I feel like it’s OK to not be, to not do, to not achieve something. To just exist. I guess what I’ve learned from travels is grace.
Q: If you could only pick one place to eat, would you choose a casual meal at a street cart or fine dining?
A: Neither. Casual food at a table with air conditioning. (Laughs) I pick trattoria-style dining where I know I won’t get funny looks if I laugh too loudly or want to put my elbows on the table. I enjoy a good street cart for a snack. But if I’m going to have a meal, I far prefer to sit at a table, but I want this place to be filled with life, good for people watching, and filled with different points of view. I want the room itself to be a dish that’s layered with all kinds of flavors.
Q: Do you speak any foreign languages?
A: I attempt to. I studied French for six years. I’m not great at it, but I have an easier time watching movies and TV shows that are in French. I’ve also been trying to study Italian for gosh knows how many years now, but I have a very patient, lovely teacher and coach now. I do well when I’m with him, but then I go to Italy and I get very nervous. Everyone speaks so fast. I really don’t know what they’re saying. But I’m trying. I hope I get there.
Q: When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?
A: Everything. I over-pack every bag and I want to bring all of the things I love to all of the places I love. I’m not an efficient packer. I’m an over-packer. I literally got asked at the Italian airport, “Why are you bringing Italian food to Italy?” It is ridiculous. I constantly look like I’m moving in to wherever I’m going.
(Jae-Ha Kim is a New York Times bestselling author and travel writer. You can respond to this column by visiting her website at www.jaehakim.com. You may also follow “Go Away With…” on Twitter at @GoAwayWithJae where Jae-Ha Kim welcomes your questions and comments.)