We know the basics on Sandra Lee: the hardscrabble story; the "Evangelist's fervor" with which she pursued success; her relationship with new York's governor; her deep commitment to the state's food banks. At this point, even shots at her Semi-Homemade empire feel cheap and stale. And yet, a new profile — perhaps the most in-depth yet — presents some interesting new details.
Much of the story will tell the Lee-follower things she already knows. Lee is rabidly ambitious. Her commitment to ending hunger is real, and comes from a genuine place. She loves the color white. The Kwanzaa cake, which New York's Benjamin Wallace terms "the veritable Piss Christ of gastronomy," still haunts her. And despite the criticism of the locavore set, her popularity just grows and grows. But the following things were — okay, maybe not shocking — but surprising.
1. She calls Cuomo's three children her "semi-homemade daughters."
2. She's been accused of telling a former employee who wanted full-time food-styling work, "Honey, I want to fuck you; I don't know if I want to put a ring on your finger." Lee says she'd never use such vulgarities.
3. Some claim she once had a reputation as...predatory.
As a comely, preternaturally contoured self-made millionaire living in Los Angeles, Lee had little trouble attracting romantic attention. According to people who knew her well at the time, she took a particular interest in men who were already attached. "She felt that if a man could be had, then he wasn't committed," says an acquaintance, who adds that Lee said more than once, likely as a joke, that she planned to write a book about how to steal a married man, an account Lee calls preposterous. By 1999, Lee had become a spokesperson for KB Home, as well as romantically involved with its CEO, Bruce Karatz, who was 21 years her senior. Karatz's marriage subsequently dissolved, and by 2001, Lee had converted to Judaism and married Karatz at Ron Burkle's estate in Beverly Hills.
4. She is friends with Diddy and Arianna Huffington.
5. She's not Snow White all the time.
Lee can be flirty and even bawdy. She'll wear cleavage-framing tops. She'll banter on-set about an inadvertently suggestive zucchini arrangement. The first time she appeared on the Today show, she reached out and touched Matt Lauer's "fabulously fit chest," as she described it. Off-camera, she has been known to go further, with humor that can take jarringly lewd turns. Although you won't see anything explicit on TV, the ambient let's-have-a-party spirit of Semi-Homemade-especially in comparison to the anal-retentive good taste of Stewart's Westport-is surely one of the reasons that Lee has found such a passionate following.
6. She's no fan of the Mama Grizzly. "I have absolutely nothing in common with Sarah Palin."
7. But she respects gender roles! "We're very traditional...I don't like to put gas in the car or take out the garbage. He doesn't particularly like to decorate window treatments."
8. She has connections at Vogue.
Before the inauguration, she went to lunch with Anna Wintour, seeking her advice on what the girls should wear for the occasion. While there, she wangled an internship at Teen Vogue this summer for Michaela, Cuomo's 13-year-old daughter.
Humanizing? Intriguing? Deliberate? With Lee, only one thing is for sure — despite being one of the modern world's great immutables, you can never, ever assume.
The Ravenous And Resourceful Sandra Lee [New York]