The Semi Homemade World of Sandra Lee

4.3.2011

By Joshua David Stein

When she retells this story now, Sandra lets out a hysterical touch-your-arm crack-up, but she soon grows serious. 'I think that is why I have a thoughtful sensitivity and openness and an accepting quality. I like to make life easier.' And in that moment, Lee yokes together her personal pain, her brother's gayness, and her brand into a unified fighting force.

If Johnny's coming out marked the beginning of Lee's solidarity with gays, her move to New York in 2006 marked the beginning of her political engagement with issues affecting them. 'When I moved here,' she says, 'I had to pick what was important to me. I did so much for women and children [in Los Angeles], but I hadn't focused on HIV/AIDS.' Lee became involved with Elton John's AIDS Foundation. 'I can't say he's my personal BFF, but when they asked me to co-chair [this year's gala], I said yes immediately.'

New York is also where Lee entered the empyrean of political circles. Earlier in her life, in Los Angeles, Lee had been married to Bruce Karatz, the millionaire former chief executive of KB Homes. Shortly after her divorce in 2006, Lee met Andrew Cuomo, the New York state attorney general and son of former New York governor Mario Cuomo, at a party in the Hamptons. They've been dating since. The two make a good pair, not only because they are both incredibly driven and ambitious but also because, at heart, they are both political animals.

Lee may look like a hyperbolic homemaker, but she has the agility of a candidate on the campaign trail, effortlessly hitching her brand to separate constituencies, from the power gays on the benefit circuit to the Midwestern housewives that make up the largest part of her base. Even when those interests collide, she breezily plows on. Although she received some scorn for her 2007 appearance on the The 700 Club, where she asked host Pat Robertson if she could kiss him, Lee says that she would not hesitate to do it again -- bringing her gay brother with her next time. That may have more to do with an Obama-like belief in her ability to bridge differences than cynical calculation, but it's hard to reconcile Lee's big-tent Christianity ('Jesus didn't judge, and I'm not going to judge,' she says) with a guy who attributes gay days at Disney with the awesome power to beget terrorist bombs, earthquakes, tornadoes, 'and possibly a meteor.'

The truth about Sandra Lee may lie somewhere in between. And if it's difficult to discern how much of her is fresh and how much is ready-made, that's exactly her point: It's delicious either way. So after kissing Pat Robertson on the cheek, she makes him prosciutto-wrapped figs, a Sandra Lee variation of devils on horseback -- a sly nod to Robertson's histrionic dogma that seems just a little too knowing to be coincidental. As the camera zooms in on Lee in the Christian Broadcasting Network's kitchen, you can just barely see her wink at the camera.

At least, you hope you can.

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Tags: Television
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