'The Chew' isn't biting Sandra Lee: 'You have to be original'

zap-photo-sandra-lee-420.jpg Sandra Lee is among the celebrity chefs about to get new competition, but she says she isn't worried.

The host of the Food Network series "Semi-Homemade Cooking" and "Sandra's Money Saving Meals" knows next Monday (Sept. 26) will bring the debuts of two significant weekday newcomers in the cooking-show category: ABC's much-promoted "The Chew" and Emeril Lagasse's "Emeril's Table" on Hallmark Channel. Still, Lee maintains she's not concerned about having more on-air rivals.

"You know why? Nobody does what I do," she tells Zap2it. "Nobody does all the categories ... home, garden, crafts, fashion, decor, holidays. And nobody does cooking and baking simultaneously. Rachael Ray is a great cook, but she will tell you herself that she's not a baker. I don't feel [competition] because it would take four people to do what I do. And I don't mean that as bragging.

"I've worked really hard to do what I do and do it well," Lee adds, "and I haven't been anxious or jumped the gun. I've taken my time and learned my craft, and I am passionate about every single thing I do. I'm not perfect at it, but I like to explore. And after 17 years, I feel I have earned my merit."

As well as loyalty, since Lee -- also the best-selling author of numerous cookbooks, the first of which she had to publish herself -- is deeply appreciative of the following she has.

"I think the people who are first out of the gate gain that respect and that viewership," she reasons. "As the market is getting more and more flooded with people who want to be in cooking, we're not seeing many of them getting that traction. You have to be original, and you have to have your own story. And you have to provide something that no one else does."

Lee's personal life is somewhat better-known these days since she's the significant other of Andrew Cuomo, now the governor of New York. In her off-hours, she does her best to go incognito, and she finds "a lot of people don't really recognize me. They think I look familiar, but I'm not out there courting the audience. I really just want to be Sandy.

"It used to work a lot better," Lee admits, "but I try. Some of my friends did something really funny and bought me a black bobbed wig; I haven't used it yet, but I'm thinking about it. It's really important to just stay true to who you are and who you were and not get too fancy, or think that you are. The minute you start reading your own press, it's over."
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