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“You’ll see what I mean when you come out to the house next week and we cook together,” she says.With her top-rated television show on the Food Network (2.5 million viewers tune in weekly), her 22 cookbooks to date, and her bimonthly Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade magazine (circulation 250,000), 44-year-old Lee has turned herself into a full-voltage brand and celebrity who is probably better known nationwide—for the moment, at least—than her boyfriend, the governor.Brooke Johnson, president of the Food Network, who signed Lee up six years ago, admits that she was a little skeptical about Sandra’s Semi-Homemade concept at first (her recipes are based on 70 percent packaged food and 30 percent fresh), “but then I met her and was completely won over.She is amazingly attractive and offers our viewers practical, real-life solutions, especially in these tough economic times.” Lee has figured out her audience perfectly—working women with limited time and money who have zero interest in cooking complicated recipes from scratch or rootling around in a farmer’s market in search of organic heirloom tomatoes—and has come up with a magic formula that delivers, in her words, “the maximum joy with the minimum heartache.” It is a style of cooking that has, unsurprisingly, raised the gastronomic hackles of several prominent food writers, including Amanda Hesser of Over a post-shopping breakfast, Lee happily orders eggs and bacon with a side of granola.Diana Taylor, an investment banker and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s constant—unmarried—companion, has a different take from Lee on her own role.“No, it never crossed my mind for a single moment to cut back on my work,” Taylor tells me.“I’m a meat-and-potatoes girl, but I still have to watch it,” she says, giggling as she whips up her sweater to reveal, sweetly but somewhat disingenuously, an expanse of perfectly smooth alabaster skin without the merest hint of any bulge.
Cuomo was recovering from a disastrous first run for governor and a bruising and very public divorce from Kerry Kennedy, a daughter of R. “Well, I did it once”—in her 30s she married a real estate mogul in Los Angeles—“and as I was walking up the aisle I remember thinking, It’s not too late to run.” But of course it was, and five years later they divorced.
“Feel the steering wheel; it’s heated, can you believe it!
” Cuomo’s inauguration is just a few days away, and on the drive to the house I ask how she plans to balance her new role as semi–first lady with her current one as queen of Sandra Lee, Inc.
She pauses for a moment before answering, “Well, here’s the thing: In 2010 I made a very conscious effort to get ahead of my work; I cleared the decks and reorganized the company so that I would have more time to devote to Andrew.
I’ve always seen my job as making life easier for my audience, and now my job is to make life easier for him.