During my time as an intern this summer at Food Network Magazine, I was lucky enough to connect with several celebrity chefs that have appeared on Food Network itself! As an avid fan of the show Next Food Network Star, I thought I’d reach out to one of my favorite (and most memorable) contestants from the the most recent season to get the inside scoop on the show and why her “Retro Rad” point of view stands out from the rest. Emily Ellyn may not have won the show… but she’s definitely not going anywhere anytime soon. Read on to see what she’s up to now!
1) Emily, can you describe the moment you found out you were cast on Next Food Network Star?
I was “soooo happy!” I remember when I got the phone call from the Food Network producers. It was Thanksgiving and I was at my mom’s house in Ohio preparing Thanksgiving dinner. I couldn’t have asked for a better thing to celebrate than to be cooking on TV and making them proud!
2) What is your culinary background? Where did you learn all of your skills—both on camera and off?
The skills I learned that prepared me for the Next Food Network Star challenge were from my life experience. I had little to no camera experience, but my cooking skills came from friends, family, work and school!
I grew up surrounded by family and friends who enjoyed nothing more than cooking and eating. My house was the gathering spot for numerous happy, hungry friends. From the time I could fire up the stove, I was planning parties and whipping up feasts for the seemingly endless parade of people that trooped through the kitchen. Everyone I served agreed that my tasty creations, flamboyant personality and flair for presentation would make me a star in the hospitality industry.
Aside from that, I earned my bachelor’s degree in Restaurant Management at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and worked as a teaching assistant at the CIA until moving to Paris to attend graduate school. During the next two years, I earned two Master’s degrees in Hospitality Management—one in Paris and one from UCF’s Rosen College in Florida. I am currently finishing up my Ph.D in Food Service Education at the Rosen College.
Simultaneously, I have served as a consultant to Sublime Doughnuts in Atlanta, Georgia, and Teak’s Restaurant in Orlando—helping both to grow their enterprises with strength and style. My overriding interest, though, is to do something with my life that will benefit the greater good. I am now developing training methods and procedures that will enable hospitality providers to refine service in the hospitality industry. I believe this area of study can (and will) impact the restaurant and hospitality industries by increasing the understanding of service and improving upon ways to teach a large, diverse workforce by utilizing fail-proof teaching techniques.
But most of all, I am passionate about food and intend to use my skills as a chef and academic to deliver my ideas and messages about hospitality and service to the world through food and the media.
3) Your “retro rad” point-of-view is something that the judges haven’t really seen before … why do you think it makes for a special, captivating show and what would it offer the Food Network family?
I know that retro rad hits a special heart string with the masses because that’s what they tell me! People feel comfortable approaching me and my retro rad point of view because they can relate. Viewers constantly say that “Emily Ellyn reminds them of an updated version of their mom,” that I bring back “the special memories,” and most importantly, “inspire them to remember, revisit, and remake their old favorites!”
I started with Retro Rad at a VERY young age! My aunt made me a poodle skirt when I was in grade school and I wore it until the poodle ran off! I would also BEG my mom to draw cat-eyes on with eye liner! At about 10, my mom said it was time to learn about the entire era and not just the cool fashion pieces.
Retro rad is in all of us—we are all products of our past and are working on remixing to make better!
My mom even bought us a matching pair of saddle shoes and took me to a REAL American 1950’s diner—sooooo retro rad!! I fell in love! I had a strawberry shake, cheeseburger and fried pickles…I was also allowed to feed the jukebox with quarters. It resonated with me that when I put the glasses on and the neat dresses, I could take myself to a time when life was easy and perfect—where perfect homes were effortless like during “Leave it to Beaver!”
As a result, I am am embracing this Retro Rad persona and hope to give EVERYONE who tunes in a half an hour or an hour of that safe, perfect space to be able to create, cook, escape or just be yourself.
4) What was your favorite challenge on Next FN Star?
My favorite challenge was the New York fashion week episode where the finalists were asked to makeover new dishes. As we know from Season 8, taking the classics and updating them is my specialty. I took the tired ham steak, pineapple and maraschino cherry classic and gave it a makeover. I made a fried ham, dried pineapple, and spicy pickled maraschino cherry ham hat fascinator for every plate! It was a hit with judges and viewers alike!
5) What did you learn about cooking—and more importantly, about yourself—from being a contestant on Next FN Star?
It was an amazing experience; I am extremely grateful for the opportunity. I learned a lot about how these television shows are filmed, and met a lot of great people from my mentor to cast members to now meeting the amazing fans. I did not interact with the judges too much, but I did learn to balance cooking skills, to verbalize cooking methods and to share all of the dishes’ components while connecting with the viewers through personal stories.
6) Where do you go from here? Will having your own show always be the goal?
Like I said, this was an amazing opportunity and I am grateful that Food Network helped launch my culinary TV career. I am continually cooking up new projects which can be seen on my website www.EmilyEllyn.com. I am now working on launching webisodes, blogs and a book while pursuing the television goal!
7) What is your one piece of advice for future contestants or aspiring chefs?
GO FOR IT!! Just be yourself, do not hold back and cook your heart out. You were chosen from a pool of thousands of applicants—you have something! Now show the world that you deserve it!
All images are property of Food Network and Emily Ellyn, respectively.