For other people named Sandra Lee, see Sandra Lee.
Sandra Lee Christiansen (born July 3, 1966) is an American television chef and author. She is known for her “Semi-Homemade” cooking concept, which Lee describes as using 70 percent pre-packaged products and 30 percent fresh items.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Career
- 3 Critical reaction
- 4 Personal life
- 5 References
- 6 External links
Christiansen was born in Santa Monica, California, the daughter of Vicky and Wayne Christiansen. When Sandra was 2, her mother had her and her younger sister Cindy live with their paternal grandmother, Lorraine. By 1972, the girls’ parents had divorced; their mother remarried, moving them to Sumner, Washington. When Lee was 11, her mother divorced for a second time. Lee by this time had three additional siblings, Kimmy, Richie and Johnny. At 15, following a beating by her mother, Lee moved in with her boyfriend, Duane, and on June 30, 1982, left for Wisconsin to live with her father and his girlfriend. She graduated from Onalaska High School in Onalaska, Wisconsin, and later attended the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. She was raised as as a Seventh-Day Adventist and later her family became Jehovah’s Witness.
In December of her junior year, she left college to live near family in Malibu, California. She later attended a two week recreational course at Le Cordon Bleu in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada which she did not finish.
In the early 1990s, Lee created a product called “Sandra Lee Kraft Kurtains”, a home-decorating tool that used a wire rack and sheets or other fabric samples to create decorative drapery. The product was sold via infomercials and cable shopping networks. Home-shopping network QVC hired her as on-air talent; in her first 18 months on the network, Lee sold $20 million worth of products.
Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee premiered on the Food Network in 2003. Each episode contains an arts and crafts element, in which Lee decorates the table setting in accordance with the theme of the meal that she just prepared. She refers to these as “tablescapes”. Lee’s second Food Network series, Sandra’s Money Saving Meals, began airing on May 10, 2009.
She has released 25 books, including Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade: Cool Kids Cooking (October 2006) and a memoir, Made From Scratch, which was released in November 2007. A magazine based on her show, Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade, was released in 2009.
Also in 2012, she started a new monthly lifestyle magazine in partnership with TV Guide. She is also starring in two new shows: Sandra’s Restaurant Remakes and Sandra Lee’s Taverns, Lounges & Clubs.
When the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran a review of Lee’s cookbook Semi-Homemade Cooking that criticized both her recipe and her “Semi-Homemade” concept,
the review’s author received a response “that was more impassioned than I anticipated”, with most readers agreeing with the article. However, a number of readers disagreed with the column. One reader wrote, “Lots of people who don’t want to take the time to shred a cup of carrots want to cook a good meal.”
Kurt Soller, writing for Newsweek, compared Lee’s impact upon television cooking with that of Julia Child, noting that although Lee’s show “is the furthest from Child’s methods”, both women “filled a niche that hasn’t yet been explored”.
Much of the criticism of Lee has coalesced around a recipe for “Kwanzaa Cake” that she demonstrated on a 2003 episode of Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee. The recipe consisted of angel food cake topped with icing, cinnamon, apple pie filling, pumpkin seeds and acorns (all store-bought), with seven Kwanzaa candles then inserted into the cake.
Food writer Anthony Bourdain, who was harshly critical of Lee in general, described the video clip of this segment of the show as “eye searing” and “a war crime”. The cake was called “scary” by the Houston Chronicle, and “the most ghastly-sounding dish in Lee’s culinary repertoire” by Tulsa World. Salon.com wrote that the video “takes pride of place in the pantheon of hilarious culinary disaster videos”.
Cookbook author Denise Vivaldo, who claims to have ghostwritten recipes for many celebrity chefs, wrote a humorous post in The Huffington Post in December 2010 stating that she was responsible for the recipe (though she said that the candles were Lee’s idea), and apologizing for it. She also wrote that Lee “has incredibly bad food taste”. A week later, the post was removed, after Lee’s lawyer threatened legal action. Lee has said this recipe is the only one of hers whose criticism she has taken to heart, and that the recipe was partly due to the Food Network dictating the show’s content at the time.
From 2001-05 she was married to KB Home CEO and philanthropist Bruce Karatz for whom she converted to Judaism. In the fall of 2005, Lee entered into a relationship with the future Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo. The two share homes in Chappaqua and Poughkeepsie.
Lee announced on May 12, 2015, that she had been diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. By then she had undergone a lumpectomy, and was scheduled to have a double mastectomy later in the week. Governor Cuomo was to take some personal time to be with her during and after the surgery. On October 12, 2015, she was rushed to a hospital due to fluid buildup, believed to be a complication of her recovery, and was to be monitored closely in the next few days. Governor Cuomo had been attending a Billy Joel concert at Nassau Coliseum, but was said to have left and was on his way to the hospital.
Lee has been cancer free since mid 2016. 
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