Rachael Ray bonds with crowd at local fundraiser

LAKE GEORGE - Sitting in the front row of the high school auditorium waiting for an appearance of celebrity cook Rachael Ray, Ashton Altheiser of Wilton sat with wide eyes as he waited for a glimpse of the perky talk-show host and world-famous star who teaches people how to cook nutritious food fast on a budget.

Rachael Ray, international television personality, was in the area to hold an annual fundraiser for the alumni association of her alma mater, Lake George High School.

Ashton, 11, clutched a bouquet of orange roses and carnations he'd be presenting to her during the show.

He was silent, but his tee-shirt proclaimed his sentiments.

"Real men wear orange for Rachael Ray," it read, with a red heart framing Rays ever-so-famous grin.

Almost at a loss for words, he said he was a big fan of Ray's, watched her shows often, and tried cooking her recipes alongside family members.

His enthusiasm was mirrored in the faces of many others jamming the sold-out show in the auditorium.

Some had arrived as early as 5:30 a.m. on the day of the ticket sale last month, as did Linda Connor of Saratoga Springs, she admitted as she too awaited Ray's appearance.

Before the auditorium's doors were unlocked, Ray was in the auditorium hurriedly chopping and arranging the ingredients she would need, with help from her mother Elsa. As the auditorium filled up, others in Ray's family lined the front row, talking with members of the audience and to one another.

Ray's younger brother Manny watched Rachael, named in 2006 as one of the most influential people on the planet by Time Magazine, prepare ingredients alongside her mother.

"She doesn't seem to be a celebrity to me," he said, watching dozens of Ray's fans gather at the front of the room to snap a digital picture. "To me, she's still my sister, and we still have our little brother-sister arguments."

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