Kelsey Nixon is actually glad that she didn't win the "Next Food Network Star" reality series back in 2008. The BYU grad made it to the final four of the Food Network's competition, but it was Aaron McCargo Jr. who ended up winning his own cooking show.
At the time, the Food Network's senior vice president Bob Tuschman commented that at 23, Nixon seemed too inexperienced to be a cooking authority, and needed to "live a bit first."
Fast forward two years, and Nixon's very own show, "Kelsey's Essentials" will premiere on the Cooking Channel Nov. 6 at 12:30 p.m., Mountain Time (air time varies with cable carriers).
"I guess Bob Tuschman was right in saying I was too young," said Nixon in a phone interview. "I don't think I was ready then. I've grown so much, and learned so much about myself. Now I feel confident and clear about my message in the kitchen. It's all about understanding how I can help the viewers at home. The timing couldn't have been better."
The North Ogden native also recognizes the "unbelievable" support she's received from Utah viewers. She said their votes helped her win the online "Fan Favorite" vote while she was on "The Next Food Network Star," which told the network that people enjoyed watching her on TV.
"So it's partly because of Utah's support that I've been given this opportunity," she added.
Taking Tuschman's advice to heart, Nixon packed a lot of experience into the past two years. She married college sweetheart Robby Egan in the summer of 2008. While he finished an advertising degree at BYU, Nixon taught cooking classes, worked in a restaurant, appeared at local events, and developed recipes for the Zupa's restaurant chain and the Shelf Reliance food storage company. Before she was chosen to compete on "The Next Food Network Star," Nixon had already earned a degree in broadcast journalism from BYU, where she created 100 episodes of her own cooking show, "Kelsey's Kitchen," for iProvo cable TV. She had also earned a culinary arts degree from the Kitchen Academy in Hollywood, and interned at Martha Stewart Living, ABC4's "Good Things Utah" and the Salt Lake Tribune.
"I didn't limit myself to just one area of the culinary industry, I tried to get a taste of everything," she said.
After Robby's graduation, the couple moved to New York City, where he pursued an advertising career and she became a spokesperson for a line of Pyrex cookware products. She also co-hosted a Web cooking show, "Kelsey and Spike Cook," for Food2.com, a subsidiary of the Food Network. The cohost was Spike Mendelsohn, a restaurateur and former "Top Chef" reality series contestant.
"It was a great project to stay involved with the brand," she said. "I felt like I was on the farm team and they were trying me out to see if I could do more camera work."
She also appeared as a judge on "Iron Chef America." Chef Masaharu Morimoto was one of the judges when Nixon was on "The Next Food Network Star," and now, the tables were turned.
"He's probably the most famous and respected Iron Chef, so for me to tell him that there's anything wrong with his food is incredible, because it's all perfect," said Nixon.
When the Food Network began its new Cooking Channel, Nixon was approached about the possibilities.
"The Cooking Channel is focused on younger demographics, and an emphasis on teaching people how to cook," she said.
She was eventually paired with chef Bobby Flay's production company, and in July, they shot 13 episodes for the first season.
"The show is very much how I cook at home, the method and style that I really believe will help home cooks," she said. "When we were brainstorming, Bobby Flay told me how important it was for every recipe to be authentic, and every scene in the show to be authentic. All the recipes are mine, these are what I cook at home on a regular basis. I'm teaching people the things that work for me, and that will probably work for them."
A preview screening of two episodes featured a lesson on roasting and a primer on homemade pasta-making.
"It goes one step beyond the basics," she said. "One episode is dedicated to the cast iron skillet, and why I think everyone should own one."
It may look effortless to viewers, but cooking shows are hard work, she said.
"It's not just showing up and talking about how much you love food. There's so much work that goes into it. We take a couple of weeks and film all the episodes together, two shows a day. And they are very long days. It takes hours and hours to get that 30 minutes of an episode."
The show is filmed in a loft apartment in New York City. "We wanted it to look like I was inviting people into my own home," she said. "Unfortunately, I don't live in that apartment, but maybe someday."
Nixon said her LDS faith hasn't been an issue.
"I'm so proud of where I came from, and I find that my religion is as much a part of my culture as it is my faith," she said. "It's very easy to live my faith here. Obviously there are times when everyone else is drinking alcohol and you're not, but nobody cares. I work with people who are Jewish, Catholic or Protestant, and everyone has a great respect and tolerance for what you choose to believe in."
She noted that when a person's beliefs are challenged, it can strengthen those beliefs. "You have to say, 'Do I believe in this or not?' Being in New York is very good for me in that regard."
Nixon has kept in touch with some of the other finalists from season four of "The Next Food Network." Aaron McCargo Jr. invited her to appear on an episode of his show, "Big Daddy's House." She and Adam Gertler appeared together on another Food Network show, "After Party."
As for Nixon's goals, "I'd like for this show to have a very long life," she said. "In the future, I hope to have more than one show, and become a food personality that is very approachable and genuine, and is able to reach people to help them with their daily problems in the kitchen."
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SKILLET BACON MAC & CHEESE
¼ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup flour
3 cups whole milk, hot
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 pound dry pasta (elbow macaroni, shells, penne, etc.)
1 recipe béchamel sauce, recipe follows
1 teaspoon dry mustard, or to taste
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups grated sharp Cheddar
1 cup grated Gruyere
1 cup grated Parmesan, plus ½ cup for topping
1 cup milk
1 ½ cups panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped
6 slices bacon with 3 tablespoons rendered bacon fat set aside
Make the béchamel sauce in a large (12-inch) oven-safe skillet or saucepan. Melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste cooks and bubbles a bit; avoiding browning, about 2 minutes. Add the hot milk, continuing to stir as the sauce thickens. Bring it to a boil.
Add nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste, lower the heat, and cook, stirring for 2 to 3 minutes more.
Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta until nearing al dente, but not fully cooked. Drain. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Over low heat, stir the dry mustard and cayenne pepper into the béchamel sauce. Gradually add the cheddar, gruyere, and 1 cup of the Parmesan, stirring constantly until all of the cheese has melted into the sauce. Add last cup of milk. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.
In another large skillet, cook bacon until crispy and golden brown. Remove cooked bacon from skillet, reserving 3 tablespoons rendered bacon fat.
Add the cooked pasta to the bechamel and stir to coat with the sauce. Coat the bread crumbs and chopped parsley with bacon fat, and sprinkle over the top of the macaroni. Sprinkle with ½ cup Parmesan cheese.
Bake until the top is browned and the sauce is bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes. Top with crumbled cooked bacon. Let sit 5 minutes before serving. Serves 6.
— Kelsey Nixon
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HONEY GLAZED APPLE PEAR TART
1 sheet all-butter frozen puff pastry (half of 17.3-ounce package), thawed
1 Bartlett pear, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
2 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup honey, warmed
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or grease with non-stick cooking spray.
Unfold pastry on parchment paper. Using a fork, pierce a half inch border around edge of puff pastry. Prick the center of the pastry as well, about 10 times all over.
Arrange pear and apple slices on top of pastry in 4 rows or diagonally overlapping fruit slices and avoiding the border. Brush fruit with melted butter and top with cinnamon sugar. Bake 15 minutes until pastry is golden brown and beginning to puff.
Brush honey over fruit and bake for an additional 5 minutes.
Serve warm with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Serves 6.
Apricot Plum Tart: Cut 2 plums and apricots into quarter-inch-thick slices. Arrange on top of puff pastry and brush with melted apricot preserves rather than honey.
Rhubarb Tart: Thinly slice ½ pound rhubarb stalks on the diagonal, and marinate in 1 cup orange juice and ½ cup sugar for 10 minutes. Strain rhubarb, reserving juices. Arrange rhubarb slices on top puff pastry. Sprinkle with white sugar. While pastry bakes, reduce rhubarb juices until it becomes a syrupy glaze. Brush with glaze when pastry finishes.
Pear, Pecan & Blue Cheese Tart: Slice 3 cups Bartlett pears and top with ½ cup chopped pecans. After brushing on the honey, top with 1/3 cup blue cheese crumbles.
— Kelsey Nixon