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Famously perky chef and TV personality Rachael Ray made an appearance at a Barnes & Noble in Union Square last night to speak and sign copies of her 20th cookbook, The Book of Burger, named for the musical Book of Mormon (coupled with a love of burgers), which reportedly "made [her] fall off [her] seat laughing." Ray fans from as far as Arizona, but probably farther, started filling bookstore seats hours in advance. "Rachael Ray is so inspirational, it's like listening to a StairMaster. I don't think she's ever had a down public," said one fan, Patrick, who showed up two hours early to the signing for a front row seat. He had flown in from Ohio for the day to see Ray. "I don't actually cook, I'm not a practitioner. I just watch for pleasure," he said. "I'm going to have her sign 'I love you' in my book.'" A woman nearby added: "I'm going to have her address mine 'to my best friend.'" Others in the audience affirmed their fondness for Ray's bubbly demeanor as well. When she finally hit the stage to speak after a half-hour publicity delay, wide smiles and glazed eyes pervaded the room. The flicker from cameras never dimmed. Another Ray fan in attendance was the 150-pound Chewy, a "famous" NYC therapy dog, whose owner claims he has 2,000 Facebook friends, though I failed to find anything about him on the internet. "Rachael has done a lot of work in the dog community," said Chewy's owner, patting the massive, slobbering animal. Other nearby audience members appeared distressed at how many second row seats the dog required. "If I could ask her anything, it would be: how does she keep going?" said Patrick. "What is her center? How does she stay on all the time?" When pressed further, he said: "I'd ask if she dreams about food. And what are her nightmares like? Does she burn something?" Patrick had done his research. He surmised a low point in Ray's life was having to move back in with her mother after a string of break-ins at her New York City apartment. He was proud of how she bounced back. There was a consensus among crowd members that, with everything she does, Ray is an immutable multitasker. And Ray brought the charm. Calling out to one fan during the Q&A, she shouted: "You're like the Noxzema girl! You're just so pretty!" She also brought the burgers. Every customer who purchased Ray's The Book of Burger, which the event manager continually touted as "Rachael's best cookbook yet," received a free Brooklyn Beer Chili Slider from a truck outside. Several people reported they were delicious. Patrick showed me a number of before-and-after burger pictures on his camera as evidence. The "after" pictures were of a styrofoam plate. In Ray's address to the crowd she said The Book of Burger is her first cookbook on a single "topic," though the book boasts recipes for far more than just burgers, and some of those burgers are pretty out there. There is, for instance, a Bloody Mary Cheeseburger (pretty much what it sounds like), but often the burgers don't involve beef at all. There are also options for vegans and vegetarians. Ray said she went all out to make a book with something for everyone. "I love what burgers say," said Ray. "They say everyone's welcome. They say laughter." She said if she ever opened a restaurant it would without a doubt be a slider bar, but with two "R"s, like her name. Ray admitted it was hard to whittle her favorite recipes down, despite the book's monolithic size. "Everything is fantastic between a bun," she said. "The book is also smart, it's smarter than me," she said, between giggles, explaining the book is literally a Smart Book, meaning it has codes you can scan to get more recipes online. "No one's smarter than you!" shouted an audience member in reply, with an edge of anger. Ray said her next book would be a co-authored project with her husband. "It will be my year in meals and my husband's year in cocktails," she said. "He's probably finishing up his second Scotch right now." During the Q&A, audience members had more comments than questions for Ray: "Your voice was the only one that could make my baby stop crying!" said one fan. "Thirty-Minute Meals saved my relationship!" said a front-row man, his hand on a woman's knee. A third girl was too breathless with excitement to get her question out and had to be seated. "I'm sorry," she repeated. "I'm just so nervous." Then someone in the audience said: "Rachael, you're such an inspiration, how do you do everything?" Ray got more serious. She urged the group to find something special to look forward to each day, even if it was just making dinner. She said food has the power to take you somewhere you want to go, as well as somewhere you might want to remember. She had less expected advice too: "I was raised by people who did not look for balance," she said. "Balance is a bummer to look for." When the Q&A ended, people rushed the stage with their children, hoping to sneak a forbidden posed photograph with the star.

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