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Rachael Ray beguiles crowd at local benefit show

Celebrity chef and talk show host Rachael Ray instructs Natalie DiStefano of Ballston Spa how to prepare Chicken Cordon Bleu during her annual benefit show at Lake George High School, Ray’s alma mater. Held Thursday April 12 in the school auditorium, it was the first time in the show’s history that an audience member was invited onstage to help concoct an entree.

Celebrity chef and talk show host Rachael Ray instructs Natalie DiStefano of Ballston Spa how to prepare Chicken Cordon Bleu during her annual benefit show at Lake George High School, Ray’s alma mater. Held Thursday April 12 in the school auditorium, it was the first time in the show’s history that an audience member was invited onstage to help concoct an entree. Photo by Thom Randall.

— “I like how she uses everyday ingredients that I’d actually have in my fridge or cabinets,” she said. “Her cookbooks have very simple meals that really impress my husband — but he doesn’t have any idea how easy they really are.”

April Whetstone of Ballston Spa brought her daughter Shalyn, 9, to see the perky, durable star in person.

Whetstone said Shalyn enjoys cooking often, playing the role of Rachael Ray in the kitchen while she prepares food, as if she has a studio audience before her. Her favorite dish, she said, was Rachael's Mini-Meat Loaf, baked up in a muffin pan.

“I like how Rachael pours ingredients, like me, in her hands and tosses it into the dish,” she said. “It’s measuring with love, as my mother used to say.”

Besides Shalyn, there were dozens of other young fans in the audience. One of them was Sydney Eggleston, 10, who traveled from Maine to see her. She had drawn up a sign calling attention to her long-distance trek, but the long-distance fan award was presented to someone from Ohio.

“She’s my most famous cooker,” Sydney said, swooning after she was recognized by the celebrity chef.

For the first time ever in the Lake George benefit show, Rachael invited a child onstage to help prepare a recipe.

Natalie DiStefano, 10, of Ballston Spa was the lucky child chosen to be Rachael Ray’s sidekick.

Following Ray’s instruction, the girl pounded a chicken breast with a mallet with abandon, and sprinkled it with seasonings to make a version of Chicken Cordon Bleu.

Afterward, the girl was nearly speechless about her work beside Ray in front of the crowd.

“It was really amazing,” Natalie said. “She’s like — my idol.”

The show ended with a lot of check-passing as well as the megastar receiving bouquets and gifts.

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