She took her can-do spirit national when she was in her early twenties. At the time, her waitressing job left her with no budget for decorating the room she rented in a Malibu, California, beach house. So she fashioned a crownlike wire gizmo and turned her quarters into a pink-curtained Victoria’s Secret–style boudoir. A visiting relative saw the possibilities in the device and urged her to hawk it from a booth at the L.A. County Fair. The rest of Lee’s story is dizzying: Within a couple of years, her home decorating kit—known as Sandra Lee Kraft Kurtains—made her enough money on the county-fair circuit to finance a television commercial and a how-to video. Target and Wal-Mart came calling. QVC took one look at Lee—who is 5' 9", model-pretty, and talks faster than a carnival barker—and realized they’d found a new star.
In her first 18 months on QVC, Lee peddled product worth $20 million. Since then, she’s invented 157 other items. Ideas seem to bubble out of her continuously. Promoting the broiled fish in chive sauce dish she calls Tropical Salmon, she says, “You can’t screw it up. It’s a great date plate.” Suddenly, a lightbulb goes off. “Hey, date plate. That’s a good line,” says Lee, diving into her purse for a pen and a piece of paper.
Last June, Lee entered into a multimedia partnership with Miramax Films. The plan is to push the Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade brand in every conceivable direction—pots, pans, shower curtains, magazines, TV. Currently, Lee has her husband of two years, Southern California home-building mogul Bruce Karatz, programming the TiVo box at their Bel Air home to record every cooking show on cable. That way, his wife can research her upcoming home-and-cooking series on the Food Network. On it, she will continue to bang the 70-30 drum.
One sure guest appearance will be Kraft Cheez Whiz, which Lee defends so persuasively that I buy a jar to make her Six-Cheese Tortellini. I can see that 70-30 might make sense in the modern world, but it’s at this point that I begin to wonder why the 70 element has to involve such head-scratching items as processed cheese spread. It takes two days of soaking to remove the rubbery film the substance leaves on my saucepan, so I can only imagine what it’s doing to my insides. What is it about Cheez Whiz that Lee finds so appealing?
“The flavor, the texture, and the consistency,” she says, refusing to back down. “Add some wine, some salsa, heat it up, and you’ve got a dip. Delicious!”