Silk organza dress, Rochas ($4,428). Barneys New York, 660 Madison Ave., 212-826-8900. Wool sweater with embroidered detail, Miu Miu ($745). 11 E. 57th St., 212-641-2980. Lady fan shoes, L’Wren Scott ($880). Barneys New York, SEE ABOVE

  Prunello bolero ($1,600) and Eglantine dress (2,700), Dior. 21 E. 57th St., 212-931-2950. Multicolor pearl cluster  earrings, Yvel ($4,334). Halo bracelet, Caleo ($7,100). Fivestory, 18 E. 69th St., 212-288-1338

I was introduced to Sandra Lee long before she became a Food Network star and the girlfriend of the current governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo. We met in Los Angeles over dinner at the home of mutual friends about a dozen years ago. Soon after, we had lunch at Mr. Chow in LA.

There are three things that I remember distinctly: It was a very early lunch and the restaurant felt slightly deserted; she ordered for both of us with a great deal of authority and an intimate knowledge of Chinese cuisine, which still eludes me; and she painted an incredibly vivid picture of what she wanted to do next in her life. It was a case study in what they teach in visualization exercises: imagine exactly what you want to create down to every last detail so you can see it, feel it, smell it—and in Sandra’s case, taste it. Now every time she publishes a new cookbook (she has produced more than 20) or I look at her food magazine (Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade), or watch one of her shows (Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade Cooking and Sandra’s Money Saving Meals), I think to myself, “But, of course, that’s exactly what she said she was going to do.”

The other time I had a similar experience was when I was on the small Hawaiian island of Lanai in 1985 with David Murdock, the chairman of Castle & Cooke, which owned the island. At the time, it was nothing but pineapples, but as we walked around, he described to me in similarly vivid detail exactly what he wanted it to look like, right down to the names of the hotels he was going to build. “Here is where we’ll put the Manele Bay Hotel, there we’ll build The Lodge at Koele.” The next time I was on Lanai a few years later, everything was precisely as he had described.

An Early Influence
The ability to turn a dream into a blueprint, and the blueprint into reality—whether the reality is a multimedia lifestyle business, a fully developed Hawaiian island, or any kind of start-up—has always fascinated me. In New York, at the beginning of December, many years after that first lunch, I asked Sandra who in her life was most responsible for that ability, and she answered that, without question, it was her grandmother Lorraine, who raised her after her mother left when she was two years old. “Lorraine was a cafeteria worker, and she also cleaned houses for a living,” she said. “She was on her feet all day, she clipped coupons, and she was indomitable—watching her was an education. She taught me, not by anything she said, but by how she lived, how to stand strong in the face of challenges and adversity, how not only to survive, but to thrive.”

Children did not figure in the blueprint of the life that Sandra had described all those years ago, but now, at 45, she’s close to Governor Cuomo’s three girls—Cara, Mariah, and Michaela—whom she describes as “my semihomemade” daughters. I remember how much fun she was with my younger daughter, Isabella, who was 11 at the time they met. Isabella had found Sandra’s first cookbook, Semi-Homemade, in our kitchen in 2002 and started cooking from it. When I mentioned this to Sandra at the time, she invited us to dinner at her home, with Isabella as her special guest. It was just the three of us, and Sandra had really gone to town. Isabella, who had grown up with a mother who could at most cook brown rice with no seasoning, was seriously impressed. Today, at 20, she is still cooking from Semi-Homemade.

Like what you're reading? Get it delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up now for our newsletters >>