Emily Ellyn is familiar to Edible Cleveland readers for her uniquely stylish take on some of our most fun stories. This Ohio native, and recent winner of Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen, is likely to be spreading the gospel of her “retro rad” cooking across the country while rocking signature cats-eye glasses, vintage dresses and heels and, at press time, a mane of silver(ish) hair!
Emily will return home to Ohio for an appearance at the Hartville Hardware Home and Garden Expo on March 21 where she’ll fire up the crowd with some grilling.
We had a chance to speak with Emily between her engagements at food and wine events near and far. Here’s the scoop on her recent adventures and a glimpse back to the beginning. We also wanted to “dish” on some of the behind-the-scenes action at Cutthroat Kitchen.
How did you get involved with Food Network?
I never wanted to try out for a cooking competition, but for years people suggested I try out for a cooking show. Actually, one of my friends signed me up and made me do it!
I was working at Sublime Doughnuts in Atlanta (assisting them in expanding into international franchise in Thailand) and I walk into the shop one morning at 4:30 am. All the guys are standing there with Cheshire cat grins on their faces. I was given a packet of papers and told I was going to Washington, DC. I quickly responded “I am not going to DC to deliver the doughnuts! I am a terrible driver and the doughnuts will not make it there!”
They all said, “NO! You are NOT going to DC to deliver doughnuts, you are going to become the Next Food Network Star!”
So off I went! It was an open casting call and, unlike what you’ve seen on these types of shows, I simply floated through it. It felt like magic! I was asked to return the next day with a dish and a demo, and within a week I was called to interview with Alton Brown. In fact, I got the call that I was going to be on the show while at my Mom’s house in Ohio – on Thanksgiving Day!
What kind of preparation can you do for a show like Cutthroat Kitchen or Food Network Star?
I don’t know if there is anything you can do to prepare for these shows. It can be very stressful. First, you get the call that you are going to be on the show and you barely have enough time to pick out an outfit let alone “practice!”
Looking back, it’s funny! I thought I needed to go back and refresh my cooking knowledge, so I read through all of my Culinary Institute of America books. Let me tell you, my greatest challenge was never the cooking or creative responses to the challenges. What I should have practiced going into Next Food Network Star was talking to the camera. That was the hardest thing for me, especially during the unexpected challenges with live judges.
Give us an idea of some of those “behind-the-scenes” secrets on a reality show like Cutthroat Kitchen.
One of the most surprising things to me was how staged and sterile everything was. Of course you don’t see this on TV. You’ll see 2x4s holding up the walls and, no matter how real they make it seem, you realize this entire set is manufactured on a sound stage in a giant warehouse. Yet in my fully functioning stage-kitchen, it was truly bizarre how immersed in the moment I became and how fully present I can be in that “staged reality!”
You’ve since appeared on the Food Network many times since that first competition, including Cutthroat Kitchen this February, which you won! So what has the Food Network exposure done for you personally?
It has propelled my career as a public figure and I am now cooking at food and spirits events and appearing on shows across the country.
Being on Next Food Network Star, Cupcake Wars and Cutthroat Kitchen were all amazing experiences and I learned a lot about myself and met a lot of great people. Alton Brown remains my mentor, and I loved the cast members. I really enjoyed having opportunities to meet the fans! A lot of people watched Cutthroat Kitchen. Fingers crossed, my momentum will keep going and fans will be interested in attending my events, watching my appearances and reading my publications.
How important was building a unique persona to your success?
I believe my strong brand identity has helped me become more noticeable among my peers and colleagues during the competitions. But my “retro rad” persona is really just who I am; I’m not sure I “built” it. I have the degrees and experience to cook next to the best of them, but you don’t see me suiting up in my chef whites! I want to tie on an apron and don a dress to show how you can create incredible chef-quality dished and remain true to yourself in the process.
What’s next for you?
I’ve filmed a promotional video for the agriculture industry, and I just finished an event in Las Vegas for catering professionals. I hope to develop my own show. In the meantime, I am excited to head back home.