Food Network Star and Retro Rad Diva Emily Ellyn was always destined to be a chef; to hear her tell the story her passion for food started perhaps before she had even drawn her first breath outside of her mother’s womb. Of course, she jokes, as she fondly reminisces about her early life and being inspired by the magic which happened around the dining room table. “At birth, I knew, I was born, I was destined to be a chef because I would watch all the adults come together around the dining room table and I saw this magic that happened. Everyone would talk, communicate, become different people and really be able to share themselves. And there was that moment, and I wanted to always be able to recreate it and have those moments of hospitality, to feed people through their hearts, minds, and stomachs. I knew the way to do that was to become a chef.”
So, why is Emily Ellyn so passionate about her cooking? Well, growing up on a 200 acre Christmas tree farm may have had a lot to do with it. While everyone else was making weekly trips to the grocery store for packaged food, and fruit and vegetables passed their prime, Emily’s food was available just a few short steps from her back door, which is about as fresh as you can get. She’s quite proud of the skills she learned as a child while helping her parents out on the farm, and is happy that people are paying more attention to where their food comes from and have started spending more time in the kitchen. “We had every animal under the sun and huge beautiful gardens. So why I love to cook, it’s because our food was so good. Our food was so fresh. I only found out that chickens came in packages when I went to the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park. I could kill and dress a chicken by the age of 5. There’s video, my parents thought it was a hoot. I think it’s funny with all of this farm to table. I think, well, it’s about time people started cooking again.”
Emily has two approaches to creating great tasting food. Firstly, she’s big on taking the old and forging it into something new. At first, it’s all about creating the recipe exactly; often a challenge due to old time recipes being written in faded pencil and measurements stated in handfuls. “So, in a total retro rad remix I will take a recipe, for instance from the 30’s. These are hand written recipes in pencil, so you can’t really read it, and it’s a handful of lard, and a handful of this. Okay, who’s hand, and where do you find lard these days?” “First and foremost, I will create those recipes as exact as I can, using my hand. Then I have to go back and make it so it functions in today’s kitchens with today’s ingredients. And then I will put my own spin. No way am I just going to make a pound cake, I’m going to make a pound cake with lemon zest and blueberries and all kinds of delicious liqueur! That’s my first way.”
While her early life is responsible for creating an unbridled enthusiasm for food and flavor Emily Ellyn admits her second approach to creating great recipes is that she gets a great deal of her inspiration from everything. All it takes is a simple trip to the grocery store for her to get excited about the possibilities. “I’ll go to the grocery store and I’ll go oh my gosh, look at what’s on sale; I’ve never seen that before! So I’ll go and research on it, the ingredient, or the pot and pan, or whatever cool gadget will inspire something, and I’ll just develop a recipe from scratch.”
Emily’s parents were also determined to provide their children with the best education possible and no education was complete without a lot of traveling. As a result, Emily Ellyn is well traveled and has experienced many cultures from all over the world. She believes this has given her an innate ability to understand not just dishes and flavors, but also people. “We met so many people, ate so much great food, learned so many cultures. I think that has what made me such a great hospitable person and being able to understand dishes, and know flavors. I’ve never met anyone I can’t get along with just as a result of knowing people.”
Emily Ellyn is on a quest to keep building a brand around herself but traveling the country in that pursuit is exhausting work, so Emily has developed quite a unique approach to staying grounded; she takes lots of baths. “I will take baths as much as I can just to keep myself grounded. It’s exhausting, you have to keep focused, and keep lots of good calendars. You have to someone on your team to help keep you organized.” You will no doubt see lots more of Emily Ellyn, with her quirky and entertaining way of preparing great dishes. As if she wasn’t busy enough she’s also taken on the task of creating a book, a salute to the past but with a new take on gourmet food and how to present it, so keep an eye out for that in the next year.