Born on July 3, 1996 in Santa Monica, California, Sandra Lee survived a hardscrabble childhood and went on to create her own company and become an Emmy-nominated television personality and bestselling author. She began hosting the Food Network show Semi-Homemade Cooking in 2009, and began hosting a second show for the network, Sandra’s Money Saving Meals, soon after. In addition to being a TV personality, she has published 25 books on cooking. Lee has been dating New York Governor Andrew Cuomo since 2005.
Sandra Lee Waldroop was born in Santa Monica, California on July 3, 1966. Sandra later dropped her last name and became known as Sandra Lee. Lee was the first child of teenagers Wayne Waldroop and Vicky Svitak. When Lee was 2 years old, her parents filed for divorce and her mother dropped her and her younger sister, Cindy, off with their paternal grandmother, Lorraine, promising to soon return. Lee credits her Grandma Lorraine with her love of baking and her ability to “stretch a dollar.”
Several years later, Lee’s mother remarried and finally returned to pick her and Cindy up. Her mother and stepfather had three children together. But when that marriage failed, Lee, at age 11, “became mom, sister, caretaker and homemaker” to her siblings, she wrote in her memoir, Made from Scratch. Her physically abusive mother was a prescription drug-addict who spent much of her time in bed, leaving Lee to rely on food stamps and welfare checks to feed the family.
Lee left home at age 15 and moved to Wisconsin to live with her birthfather. Missing her brothers and sisters, she became depressed and even contemplated suicide. Making things worse, her father was convicted of second-degree sexual assault and sentenced to a year in prison. Lee hasn’t had any contact with her mother since she left home. “I was dealt a hand that might have had a very different outcome if I ever allowed myself to feel like a victim,” Lee wrote in her memoir.
Lee enrolled at the University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse, but dropped out during her junior year to return to California. Always good with her hands and prettifying things around the house, the driven and ambitious Lee created a new product called the Kurtain Kraft, which she sold through informercials on TV. She also produced a series of home improvement videos. By the end of 1993, after just nine months, Kurtain Kraft had grossed $6 million.
Lee became a spokesperson for KB Home and married the company’s CEO, Bruce Karatz, in 2001. Their marriage ended in 2005.
Lee’s first book, Semi-Homemade Cooking, landed on The New York Times’ best-seller list. TV appearances to promote the book led to a call from The Food Network, and the show Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee launched in 2003. The philosophy behind Semi-Homemade Cooking, according to Lee, is to make life easier for the average housewife. “Seventy percent store-bought, ready-made plus 30 percent fresh allows you to take 100 percent of the credit,” is Lee’s motto.
Lee has launched lines of home, garden and craft products, which have been sold at Sears, Target and Wal-Mart. Her recipes incorporate packaged foods and sometimes specify certain brands, which infuriates foodies. Chef Anthony Bourdain famously called a Kwanzaa cake that Lee created “a crime against humanity.” In 2009, Lee launched a second Food Network series, Sandra’s Money Saving Meals, as well as a series of primetime holiday specials for HGTV, Sandra Lee Celebrates.
In 2005, Lee started dating New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. The two now live together, along with his daughters from his previous marriage, in Chappaqua, New York.
Lee has published 25 books, including her 2007 memoir Made from Scratch, which tells of her hardscrabble beginnings. An active philanthropist, she is a national spokesperson for Share Our Strength’s No Kid Campaign and the anchor of their largest annual fundraiser,
The Great American Bake Sale.
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