Made from scratch is not just the title of Sandra Lee’s memoir, it is what describes who she really is – and she will be the first to tell you what it takes to get here.
“It takes lot of hard work,” Lee said. “And I always think, you know what, I hope I’m not still 12 years old sitting under the Chinese cherry tree that was in my backyard and this was all just a dream because when I wake up I’m going to be too tired to do it all again.”
An entrepreneur turned celebrity chef, but her semi-homemade brand that she is famous for comes from her real life experience of growing up from humble beginnings.
“I use things we buy in the grocery store that everyone has in their pantry,” she explained.
And it’s what has captivated budget l-conscious shoppers and time-strapped moms all over the world who watch her whip up one dish after another on her top-rated TV show on the Food Network.
Raised in Los Angeles by her paternal grandmother, Sandra said Lorraine was a role model, who filled the house with joy and the aroma of baked goodies. After her mother remarried, they moved out of state. By the time she was 12, the family was on welfare and Sandra was caring for her siblings.
Her focus today: preventing childhood hunger.
“I was a founding board member of the LA chapter of Unicef, which was 17 years ago,” she said. “A big need in all of these countries is that a lot of families and children are malnourished . The problem is they don’t have the food so I’m coming in and working with Unicef on a nutritional basis now.”
Her other focus: being the right kind of role model.
“You are the person that is relatable, everybody wants to do what you’re doing and don’t make people feel intimidated. How do you do that?” I asked her. “That is my job, I am Aunt Sandy to everyone,” she smiled.
As for what kids need nowadays?
“They need to learn the skills, boys need to learn to cook, they are going to grow up and be men, they need to learn how to do the dishes just like the rest of us cook and clean,” she added. “I think it’s girls and boys, I am just as involved with my nephews as I am with my nieces and of course, Andrew’s daughters.”
She is talking about New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, her partner for more than 11 years. A partner who has been there for the good times and the bad. May 2015, Sandra Lee was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy.
“Breast cancer is not something you go through alone, I was very lucky I have Andrew, my sister and my family,” she said. “My girlfriends were incredible but as a couple you go through it together.”
After the surgery, doctors said the cancer was more aggressive than they originally thought.
“At the end of the day I want to stay here I want to be here,” she said. “I have a lot more work to do, I have a lot more things to accomplish and a lot more fun to have.”
In September 2015 she was declared cancer free. I spoke with her around the same time after Pope Francis gave her a blessing when he came to visit NYC.
“It’s not easy to keep up with the appetite of her 2.5 million viewers, but somehow she does it – along with 22 cookbooks and a tv show so, what’s next?
“You know what, since I was a young girl I never talked about what I was going to do because I didn’t want to jinx it,” she smiled.
But she will talk about her go-to meal when she’s not in the spotlight.
“I love tacos!” she laughed. “I could have Mexican food morning, noon and night.”
But her favorite thing to do?
“Spend time with my girlfriends, Andrew and the kids,” she said.