Sandra Lee (chef)

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Sandra Lee
Sandra Lee 2012 Shankbone.JPG
First Lady of New York
De facto
January 1, 2011 – September 25, 2019
GovernorAndrew Cuomo
Preceded byMichelle Paige Paterson
Succeeded byVacant
Personal details
Sandra Lee Waldroop[1]

(1966-07-03) July 3, 1966 (age 54)
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
(m. 2001; div. 2005)
Domestic partnerAndrew Cuomo (2005–2019)
EducationUniversity of Wisconsin-La Crosse (BS)
OccupationTelevision personality, author, celebrity chef

Sandra Lee Christiansen (née Waldroop; born July 3, 1966),[2][3] known professionally as Sandra Lee, 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.[4] She received the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lifestyle/Culinary Show Host in 2012 for her work and her show. As the partner of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, she served as New York's de facto First Lady from 2011 to 2019, when the couple ended their relationship.

Early life[edit]

Lee was born in Santa Monica, California,[3] in 1966, the daughter of Vicky Svitak and Wayne Waldroop,[5] who had been high-school sweethearts. When Sandra was two, her mother sent her, along with her younger sister, Cindy, to live with their paternal grandmother, Lorraine Waldroop.[6][7] In 1972, after divorcing Wayne, Lee's mother moved with her girls to Sumner, Washington, where they acquired a new stepfather, whose last name (Christiansen) Lee took. Vicky had three additional children in the 1970s: Kimmy, Richie, and Johnny.

Lee graduated from Onalaska High School, in Onalaska, Wisconsin,[8] and attended the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.[6][9][10] She was initially raised as a Seventh-day Adventist, but her family later became Jehovah's Witness.[11]

In December of her junior year, she left college to live near family in Malibu, California.[6] She later attended a two-week recreational course at Le Cordon Bleu in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, which she did not finish.[12]


In the early 1990s, Lee created a product called "Sandra Lee Kraft Kurtains," a home-decorating kit designed to turn a wire rack and sheets, or other spare fabric, into decorative drapery. It was sold via infomercials and cable shopping networks. Home-shopping network QVC hired her as on-air talent. In her first 18 months, Lee sold $20 million worth of merchandise.[13]

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.[14] 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.[14] A magazine based on her show, Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade, was released in 2009.[15]

In 2012, Lee won the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lifestyle/Culinary Host for Semi-Homemade Cooking.[16]

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.[17]

Critical response[edit]

Hsiao-Ching Chou of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote a review of Lee's cookbook Semi-Homemade Cooking that criticized both her recipes and her "semi-homemade" concept.[18] She then wrote a follow-up column, noting that the review received a response "that was more impassioned than I anticipated". Chou wrote that, though most readers agreed with her, a number of readers took Lee's side, including one who wrote, "Lots of people who don't want to take the time to shred a cup of carrots want to cook a good meal."[19]

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".[20]

Amanda Hesser, in a 2003 review of Semi-Homemade Cooking in the The New York Times, wrote that Lee's recipes, in their use of prepackaged ingredients, can end up costing more, having harder-to-find ingredients, taking longer to make, and tasting worse then equivalent recipes made from scratch. Hesser also wrote that, in her cookbooks, Lee "encourages a dislike for cooking, and gives people an excuse for feeding themselves and their families mediocre food filled with preservatives."[21]

Kwanzaa cake[edit]

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 corn nuts (which she referred to as acorns), all of which were store-bought, with seven Kwanzaa candles then inserted into the cake.[22]

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".[23][24][25] The cake was called "scary" by the Houston Chronicle,[26] and "the most ghastly-sounding dish in Lee's culinary repertoire" by Tulsa World.[27] wrote that the video "takes pride of place in the pantheon of hilarious culinary disaster videos".[28]

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".[29] A week later, the post was removed after Lee's lawyer threatened legal action.[5] 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.[5]

Personal life[edit]

From 2001 to 2005, she was married to KB Home CEO and philanthropist Bruce Karatz[30] for whom she converted to Judaism.[31][11] In the fall of 2005, Lee entered into a relationship with Andrew Cuomo, who became Governor of New York in 2011. The two shared homes in Chappaqua and Poughkeepsie.[10][20] On September 25, 2019, the couple announced that they had ended their relationship.[32]


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.[33] On October 12, 2015, she was rushed to a hospital because of fluid buildup, believed to be a complication of her recovery, and was monitored closely in the next few days. Cuomo had been attending a Billy Joel concert at Nassau Coliseum, but left and went to the hospital.[34] Lee has been cancer free since mid-2016.[35]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Work Result Ref.
2012 Daytime Emmy Award Outstanding Lifestyle/Culinary Host Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee Won [16]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Payne, Patti (May 11, 2007). "Food Network star Sandra Lee peeled onions as a youth at the Puyallup Fair". Puget Sound Business Journal. Seattle, WA: American City Business Journals. Archived from the original on August 6, 2014. Retrieved October 12, 2010.
  3. ^ a b "Sandra Lee Biography: Chef, Writer, Television Personality profile". Archived from the original on July 23, 2018. Retrieved May 12, 2015.
  4. ^ "Sandra Lee: The Woman in White". Vogue. Retrieved January 8, 2016.
  5. ^ a b c Wallace, Benjamin (March 27, 2011). "The Ravenous and Resourceful Sandra Lee". New York.
  6. ^ a b c "Excerpt: 'Made From Scratch'". Good Morning America. ABC. October 31, 2007. Archived from the original on May 12, 2015. Retrieved July 12, 2010.
  7. ^ "Lee, Sandra". Retrieved March 1, 2021.
  8. ^ "Onalaska High School Alumni Association – Sandra Lee". Onalaska High School Alumni Association.
  9. ^ Lee, Sandra (November 1, 2007). "Recipe for Success". Family Circle. Archived from the original on July 16, 2011. Retrieved July 12, 2010.
  10. ^ a b Karni, Annie (December 3, 2009). "Sandra Lee and Andrew Cuomo: A Love Story". Page Six Magazine. New York: New York Post. Archived from the original on August 2, 2010. Retrieved July 12, 2010.
  11. ^ a b Hoffman, Allison (April 5, 2011). "Semi-Homemade, Totally Jewish - Turns out Sandra Lee converted a decade ago". The Tablet.
  12. ^ Wells, Gully (February 22, 2011). "Sandra Lee: The Woman in White". Vogue. Archived from the original on December 23, 2012. Retrieved November 24, 2012.
  13. ^ Rochlin, Margy (September 2003). "Good-bye To All That". Gourmet.
  14. ^ a b "Sandra Lee". Hosts & Chefs. Food Network. 2010. Archived from the original on August 25, 2010. Retrieved October 12, 2010.
  15. ^ "Television Star and Best-Selling Author Sandra Lee and Hoffman Media, Launches New Magazine Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade Today" (Press release). Hoffman Media. February 17, 2009. Archived from the original on February 1, 2013. Retrieved October 12, 2010.
  16. ^ a b Moore, Frazier (June 23, 2012). "Daytime Emmys 2012 Winners Revealed". The Huffington Post. Retrieved September 19, 2012.
  17. ^ Shain, Michael. "Sandra Lee expands empire". New York Post. Retrieved September 26, 2012.
  18. ^ Chou, Hsiao-Ching (October 23, 2002). "On Food: 'Semi-Homemade' is a halfhearted view of cooking". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Seattle, WA: Hearst Seattle Media. Retrieved October 12, 2010.
  19. ^ Chou, Hsiao-Ching (November 13, 2002). "On Food: Column on Sandra Lee really stirred the pot". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Seattle, WA: Hearst Seattle Media. Retrieved October 12, 2010.
  20. ^ a b Soller, Kurt (August 6, 2009). "Sandra Lee: The Anti-Julia". Newsweek. Retrieved October 12, 2010.
  21. ^ Hesser, Amanda (October 1, 2003). "Test Kitchen; Homemade Or Semi? A Bake-Off (Published 2003)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 26, 2021.
  22. ^ Gillette, Amelie (March 16, 2009). "This Cake Will Make Your Eyeballs Burst Into Flames". The Onion AV Club. Retrieved April 8, 2021.
  23. ^ Balingit, Moriah (June 17, 2010). "Eat this, Anthony Bourdain!". McClatchy – Tribune Business News. Washington.
  24. ^ Bancroft, Colette (July 7, 2010). "Ripping Rant on Food and Restaurant Business; Surly celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain spouts off about his likes, and mostly passionate dislikes, in the eminently entertaining Medium Raw". St. Petersburg Times. Florida. p. E2.
  25. ^ Bourdain, Anthony. Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook. Ecco. ISBN 978-0-06-171894-6.
  26. ^ Vuong, Mary (May 17, 2006). "Celebrity Chefs/Foodies with groupies". Houston Chronicle. Texas. p. 1.
  27. ^ Allen, Charlotte (December 5, 2010). "Perhaps Democrats should taste Sandra Lee's cooking". Tulsa World. Oklahoma. p. G.3.
  28. ^ Lam, Francis (December 26, 2010). "Just how offensive is Sandra Lee's crazy Kwanzaa cake?". Archived from the original on December 28, 2010. Retrieved April 8, 2021.
  29. ^ Eurpublisher (December 16, 2010). "Woman behind 'Sandra Lee Kwanzaa Cake' Explains Debacle". Lee Bailey's EURweb. Archived from the original on April 8, 2017.
  30. ^ Barbaro, Michael (May 14, 2010). "A TV Cook's Next Serving? Cuomo Family Style". Retrieved September 28, 2014.
  31. ^ Wallace, Benjamin (March 27, 2011). "The Ravenous and Resourceful Sandra Lee". New York Magazine. By 1999, Lee had become a spokesperson for KB Home, as well as romantically involved with its CEO, Bruce Karatz, who was 21 years her senior. Karatz's marriage subsequently dissolved, and by 2001, Lee had converted to Judaism and married Karatz at Ron Burkle's estate in Beverly Hills.
  32. ^ McKinley, Jesse (September 25, 2019). "Governor Cuomo and Sandra Lee Have Split Up". The New York Times.
  33. ^ "TV Personality Sandra Lee Battling Breast Cancer, Urges Women to Be Screened". Good Morning America. May 12, 2015. Archived from the original on May 12, 2015. Retrieved May 12, 2015.
  34. ^ Lovett, Kenneth; Slattery, Denis (August 5, 2015). "Sandra Lee, Cuomo's girlfriend, rushed to hospital: source". New York Daily News.
  35. ^ Kindelan, Katie (September 22, 2015). "Sandra Lee Reveals She Is Cancer Free". ABC News.

External links[edit]

Honorary titles
Preceded by
Michelle Paige Paterson
First Lady of New York
De facto

Succeeded by