Austin, Texas was blessed when, on Thursday, February 28, Michelle Obama’s Becoming book tour landed in the city. The stop featured power duo Michelle Obama and Rachael Ray for an evening of intimate, serious-yet-lighthearted conversation about the former first lady’s life. Michelle’s memoir was the best-selling book of 2018, and last year’s tour was so well-received that she added more dates for 2019. At each event, a celebrity joins Michelle on stage to interview her about her life. Rach was chosen as moderator for the Austin leg, and she and Obama talked about the importance of fathers in girls’ lives, the difficulty of scheduling dinner when your husband is President, moving out of the White House, cooking dubious grilled cheese sandwiches in her new home, and more.
The event’s sold-out audience was usually laughing or clapping throughout the evening because, well, it’s Michelle and Rach. Here’s a taste of their chat about family, food, and being Michelle. Be sure to tune in to The Rachael Ray Show on Tuesday, March 12 (check your local listings) to see Rach interview Michelle again!
Editor's Note: Rachael and Michelle’s words have been lightly edited.
Rachael: Reading your book, your dad seemed like a super dad, kind of an Atticus [Finch] sort of character. I almost picture him with a cape. Do you have anything that’s a super dad story?
Michelle Obama: Watching my father with a disability get up every day and go to a job I’m sure he didn’t love, but take pride in the fact he could, those are the super dad moments. My father wasn’t some high-powered person with a title and pedigree. He was someone who devoted every ounce of energy to his family. There are so many fathers like that out there that don’t get celebrated.
The other thing about my father is — and I point this out for men out there because a lot of people ask, “How do you create a strong girl?” They always look to the mother, right? They always sort of think that the daughter emulates the mother. But I think it’s very clear that, for me, having a man in my life who adored and respected me from a very early age was a very powerful, heroic thing that my father did for me, and I didn’t even realize it. Women, we’re walking around covered in scars. Some of them are little because of little slights you get. Someone says something to you at work or they talk you down. Those are paper cuts. We don’t even notice those, but they leave a scar. Then there are the deeper cuts. And imagine walking around in the world, trying to raise your kids and go to work covered in cuts. That’s how women live in the world. We need to have more girls like me who were never abused, who were always loved and cherished by the men in their lives. So it’s not just the job of the mother. It’s the job of the men in a girl’s life to make her feel loved. My father was my first role model for how a man should treat me. So when I met Barack Obama, my bar was high.
RR: During your marriage, expectations changed. [Barack’s] life changed, you had two kids.
MO: I know that people look at me and Barack as #RelationshipGoals. No, it’s hard. It’s hard for everyone. The whole process of marriage and nurturing kids, it’s hard. And it’s supposed to be hard. So don’t quit because it’s hard.
And I will tell you, you will go through years where you will hate your husband. [Laughs.] Years. Barack believes it was a decade; I don’t know if it was that long. But how do you have a long, successful marriage? You make it through those bumps. And if you don’t stick in there and you think the bump means it’s over, then that’s where you give up. But we’re on the other side of our kids. They’re sane, they’re whole, they breathe, they drive.
RR: Tell us about what you did to solve dinner time.
MO: Well, when your man is here to save the world… He would say he was coming home at a certain time, and I realized that was just hope talking. He’s like, “I’m going to be there in 30 minutes.” And then two hours would go by. And I thought to myself, what message was this sending my young girls that you wait for the man — you wait to give the big piece of meat to the man. That’s not the message I wanted to send. So I started telling Barack, “This is when we eat dinner. This is when bed time is. If you’re here, we’d love to see you, and if you’re not, we move on.” Because I wanted my girls to understand that they’re responsible for moving their lives forward. Barack, we love you, but we don’t always wait. We don’t need permission.
RR: That small thing teaches a woman to value herself, though. It’s such a huge lesson about such a little thing: dinner time.
MO: They did the same thing in the White House. I talked about how the senior staff in the West Wing would be sweating, it’s like “Oh, it’s 6:20, you better get in this meeting.” Barack was like, he’d be eating alone because we still have dinner at 6:30. And what I learned is that people would work around the plane of your life when you set it on the table first. When you say, “This is important to me.”
RR: Do you like to go out for dinner?
MO: I like getting out. We were going out to dinner even in the White House because we just had to get out of that house. Literally, we were fighting for some level of normalcy, and going out to dinner is a version of the life that we used to have. So, yeah, we do a little of both.
RR: Since you’ve moved into the new house, have you ordered a pizza?
MO: We had pizza on Sunday, actually.
RR: Did the guy come to the door? Do you freak people out?
MO: Rachael. [Pauses.] Rachael. Secret Service is still all around my house! You can’t walk up to the door! [Laughs.] Sasha’s locked out; she’s like, “Mom, let me in.” I’m like, “I’m sorry girl. Do you have your ID?” Yeah, there’s still security posts everywhere. Every ex-President is still at a point of threat, so you get security for life.
RR: We need to talk about how you made grilled cheese, the first meal you made for yourself in the house.
MO: Well, that wasn’t necessarily the first meal. And it wasn’t a meal. I don’t act like grilled cheese is a meal!
RR: [To audience] She said in the book that she started by making toast. Then she microwaved cheese on the toast.
MO: What? I wasn’t, like, serving the Queen.
RR: Have you made dinner in the house since you got there?
MO: Uh, no. You know, there are things I miss. Cooking is not on my list. I can cook. I talked to my brother about this. He was like, “When did you cook?” I was like, “I cook! I cooked for years. I cooked before we came to the White House.”
RR: Did you have a favorite?
MO: I have this wonderful shrimp and garlic linguini pasta with sun-dried tomato dish that was a specialty of mine that I would cook for every little dinner party. So all of our friends have had that meal probably too many times.
I was like any cook. I had my regulars because I was a working mother. I think the girls got way too much baked chicken with broccoli and couscous. That was one of those fast, go-to kind of meals because you could season the chicken, you come home from work, turn on the burner, put it in, steam some broccoli. They got really sick of chicken and broccoli and couscous. We’d have our pasta night, our spaghetti night. We’d have a fish night. You know, it’s not… Come on. [Laughs.] My kids were fed. They didn’t go hungry. I wasn’t sautéing and flaming. No, I didn’t have terms for anything that I did. But they ate. They were nourished.
RR: What did you first cook for Barack?
MO: I made gumbo! I made gumbo for that man, with the crab legs and the sausage. I was working hard back then. Then I never made it again.
RR: Did he ever cook for you?
MO: You know, he cooked chili once. He’s big into his chili recipe, but I think I’ve only ever had it once.
RR: Let’s talk about early childhood education. I met you before you became first lady. The work that we did together was about school food and getting kids moving. You did so much for this country. You brought back human beings [to school cafeterias] to make better school food. You made changes to our nutrition labels for grownups to be more educated about what we were putting into our bodies. So talk to me about what we do now that so many of these things have been reversed.
MO: So first, as consumers and parents, we have to be aware of what health looks like for our kids. We have to educate ourselves because, without the government involved anymore, we’re essentially having to say, “We got this.” We have to know that fast food is going to be infiltrating our kids’ schools, and that’s what they’re going to eat for two meals a day. So you’re going to have to really supplement what they do. We have to educate ourselves. We have to empower ourselves. We have to be the ones who push the market. We’re consumers. We drive the market. Any fast food company will make what we’re buying, so we have to shift what we’re buying so they make things that aren’t going to kill our kids. We have to be smarter.
RR: We have to be smarter.
MO: I think we are getting smarter, getting more educated, but it's not equal throughout the country. You have places like Austin, where you guys know what's going on. But [in other towns], they don't have access to fresh produce. If you live in a well-funded community, you're getting better food than you are in a neighborhood that isn't.
RR: I’m a terrible gardener. I’m not allowed to touch things. Are you a good gardener?
MO: I mean, yes. I get in there. But really, with the White House garden, I had help. You know? I had the National Parks Service. A little help.
MO: So I mean, I would like to have my own garden. But that garden I did have some help with, and I would just go out and [does Vanna White arm and smiles].
RR: Look what I did!
MO: Look what I did. And then I’d pick some things, and then I’d go in the White House and I’d make a speech. But I do feel in my soul that I’d be a good gardener.
RR: Is there anything else you want to say?
MO: Rachael, you know I love you. We worked hard together on so much of this stuff when Barack was in office. When I met you, I knew you were someone I’d want to be neighbors with. And I’m grateful you came to talk to me tonight.
RR: It’s been the honor of my life.