On this Valentine's Day, let us refrain from agonizing over the Hallmark rituals, the lame displays of "romance" and the tendency to reflect on bad Valentine's past. Instead, let us turn the spotlight on another, so as to make bearable this strange and totally unnecessary holiday.
Let's look at the love life of Sandra Lee.
During Sandra Lee's bizarre and unintentionally hilarious speaking engagement at an Oklahoma hospital, she joked about trying to kill off her ex-husband with her cooking1. I have no doubt that Sandra's dishes could fell even the healthiest human, but the question in my mind is, "What's the deal with her ex-husband? Who is this guy?"
Bruce Karatz is the CEO of KB Homes. According to this article, he's been with the company for over 30 years, rising through the ranks from house attorney. He's known for unconventional marketing and promotion gimmicks (including putting a model home at the top of a department store in Paris, as well as sumo wrestling at company events). He motorcycles and went on a bike ride with Lance Armstrong and Robin Williams. Bruce was born in 1945 and has three adult children from a previous marriage. His favorite food is "pasta with fresh tomatoes".
Sandra Lee and Bruce married in 2000. In this interview, Bruce describes how he and Sandra met:
Q: How did you meet your wife, Sandra Lee, who is on the Food Network?
A: Our spokesperson for six or seven years was Tom Skerritt, the actor on "Picket Fences." He has a face everyone knows and his dad was a homebuilder. Then I saw him do an Advil commercial. I said, "Whoa, this is not our customer. This is our customer's father or grandfather, we have to get somebody younger." So our head of marketing said they had a woman who was doing performances for us in our studios. He brought her in and I met her and several months later, our paths crossed and that started the romance. And that was it. We've been married for three years.
I'm immediately skeptical of anyone who disses Tom Skerritt. Not only is he unreasonably sexy for a 73 year old, but what other actor could pull off Strawberry from Up in Smoke as well as Viper from Top Gun?
Aside from the fightin' words about Tom, what the heck is up with the dispassionate explanation of how he and Sandra met? He might as well be talking about how he ended up with a taco salad instead of a burrito.
And what kind of "performances" do you think Sandra was doing in the studios? Hmm...
They were quite the power couple while it lasted. Sandra was one of People's 50 Most Beautiful People in 2004 and hosted one of the highest-rated shows on the Food Network at the same time that Bruce was the second-highest paid CEO in Los Angeles. There are all kinds of rumors that Sandra's success was due to her connection with such a powerful man. It'll be interesting to see if she suffers professionally from their split.
Bruce talks about bringing Sandra in as a spokesperson, but was she ever a spokesperson for KB Homes? Not that I can find. However, in October 2005 KB Homes partnered with none other than:
Snap! Oh no he di'int! For KB Homes to partner with the premier (and as far as I'm concerned, only) "lifestylist" - that's got to be a "screw you" to Sandra. In this 2005 press release, Bruce twists the knife even further:
"It is a treat for KB Home to be teaming up with Martha for Halloween. She is the ultimate authority when it comes to preparing a home for any holiday, " said KB Home Chairman and CEO Bruce Karatz.Yow! I mean, I agree with him, but yow! Heck, even Sandra Lee agrees, sort of:
... Sandra Lee is a "New York Times" best-selling author with her own show on the Food Network. And she's joining us from our New York bureau.Well, at least they got her last name right.
Congratulations to all the praise, but I know this has to be awkward to be considered the next big thing after, perhaps, Martha is not seen as much anymore.
LAURA LEE, LIFE STYLIST: Well, I think she's still seen as the expert, and by the way, Happy Easter.
WHITFIELD: Happy easter.
LEE: She's still seen of course as an expert, but there's been many experts from Betty Crocker to, you know, Julia Childs, and there's room for everybody.
What is next for Sandra Lee? Rumor has it that she and Gordon Elliot are sharing a penthouse in Manhattan. If she really is shacked up with the producer of Semi-Homemade Cooking, then we'll be seeing her for years to come (or at least until their relationship hits the rocks).
I'm cool with that; I enjoy watching Sandra, even if it is in a I-can't-believe-she-just-did-that kind of way. Besides, I enjoy reading other opinions of Sandra almost as much as I enjoy watching her get soused on national television. For instance:
What's the most offensive TV cooking show?
There's one [in the US] by Sandra Lee. She seems to suggest that you can make good food easily, in minutes, using Cheez Whiz and chopped-up Pringles and packaged chili mix. It inspires people to have low expectations and to settle for less, and I think that's not doing God's work.
Being a chef is God's work?Oh, yeah. What better profession? We feed people. We nuture them. We provide a real service. We're the salt of the earth. We may be the backstairs help but we do something useful, and, once in a while, transcendent and inspiring.
Who is this taking down Sandra Lee and talking about God's work? Why, none other than Anthony Bourdain:
Speaking of God's work, this blogger compares Sandra Lee slapdash approach to cooking with Rick Warren, the author of The Purpose Driven Life2. This is a great analysis:
That's spot on. Semi-Homemade isn't about the sensual experience of cooking or even about eating itself. Sandra provides Cliff Notes for cooking. It's all style and no substance (although she doesn't even have the style part of it down most of the time).
Her idea of cooking is opening a can of something processed, dumping it into a fancy dish with some “creative flourish” on top that her guests will mistake for culinary innovation. Her métier is the “tablescape” where she shows you a darling, just darling, way to decorate the table. Then she goes to put on a fancy and thematically appropriate dress and she has her picture taken. Just like a tall nine year-old.
I could do without Sandra Lee.
But I cannot do without church, sadly—something in Hebrews about that.
Unfortunately for me, Sandra Lee is now behind the pulpit. She is not about feeding people good food, she is about simulating the eating experience. Sandra Lee, or rather Rick Warren, excuse me, is all about the illusion of God and theology, but done in a way that doesn’t involve knowledge, skill, love or comprehension. It is simulating the religious experience.
If Semi-Homemade lacks substance and style, then why on earth would anyone watch it? The Semi-Ho Drinking Game, for one. I'll try this one out and maybe even liveblog it when I'm fully recovered from my flu.
1Sandra filed for divorce in October, but I don't know the current disposition of her marriage. Trust me, when I know, you'll be the first to know. For purposes of clarity, I will refer to Mr. Karatz as Sandra Lee's ex-husband.
2I know nothing about this book except that my fanatically religious former landlord pushed this book on me weekly for the duration of my lease.