Kelsey Nixon isn't "The Next Food Network Star," but viewers are likely to see her somewhere on the small screen in the future.
Aaron McCargo Jr., a Philadelphia hospital chef, won the reality series July 26, and his six-episode series, "Big Daddy's House," began airing Sunday on the Food Network. However, Nixon was among the last four finalists, and could still win the Fan Favorite poll on www.foodnetwork.com, which would give her a set of kitchen appliances. The winner will be announced Friday.
Nixon got married July 11 to Robby Egan and is living in Provo for the next six months while Robby finishes his last two semesters at Brigham Young University. Then the couple will head to New York, where she will pursue her quest to cook on camera and he will pursue a career in advertising.
Meanwhile, she's working as a private chef, and teaching classes at Thanksgiving Point and Sur La Table. You can also see her on in-house TV screens at Zupa's restaurants, highlighting specials of the week. She's also fielding the many offers that have come in since she made it to the show's top four finalists.
"I've been advised by everyone not to take the first opportunity thrown at you," she said. "I want to take advantage of the next six months and weigh all my options, whether it's being a spokesman for a restaurant group or food company, or working with a television production company, or food writing. There's no reason why it can't be all of these things, but it's a matter or choosing those things in the right order."
She has an agent and a manager, "which really helps, because I'm inexperienced in making these kinds of decisions."
Other finalists have already parlayed their turn on the reality show
into opportunities. Although he lost out in the final episode, runner-up Adam Gertler will star in a Food Network series, "Will Work For Food," beginning Sept. 30. And Kevin McRoberts, who was ousted the second week, is now a spokesman for Frank's RedHot pepper sauce.
Nixon said that at the finale, which was filmed in March, the majority of finalists thought McCargo would win. Many comments posted on the Food Network's Web site disagreed with the choice. But, Nixon points out, viewers see only a fraction of what goes on in the edited episodes.
"There's so much you don't see, it's unbelievable," she said. "But when all is said and done, I felt I was portrayed in a good light. One reason I agreed to do this show is because it's not a catty show, so you don't see a lot of language or fighting."
However, the finalists were often surprised by what was emphasized on-screen. "We would go in thinking we knew exactly who would get sent home, but the person we thought had done the best was the person who got sent home."
For instance, in the third episode, Nixon's Sloppy Jane sauce was dismissed by Martha Stewart. "With the Martha challenge, all day long people had been congratulating me, and thought I would win. But then I nearly got sent home."
Nixon was also criticized by judge Bob Tuschman for her frequent references to her stint in culinary school.
"I think they picked the three times that I ever mentioned culinary school," she said. "I had just graduated, and that experience was fresh in my mind. But they're producing a television show, so they're going to make it as interesting as they can."
Some judges perceived her upbeat personality as fake. But Nixon said that was because at first she had a hard time containing her excitement with being around the Food Network stars, who are like movie stars to her.
"Also, I have an innate passion for cooking on television. I think the majority of the finalists on this show love to cook, but they don't have a passion to cook on TV. It took some work on my part to channel that."
But Tuschman later told her parents that if he ever had a daughter he'd want her to be just like Nixon, and that the week she was eliminated, he'd never gotten so much hate mail before in his life. "So I think they finally 'got' me."
What did Tuschman mean with his comments that Nixon needs to "live a bit first"?
"I've actually asked him that very question," she said. "I think he feels like I don't have enough authority on camera. But I don't want to intimidate people. I was pitching a show geared to a younger demographic, and I think there's something charming about learning with me, rather than from me. You don't have to have 20 years in the restaurant industry to do that. It's just a matter of finding the right place."
As far as any favorite finalists, "I really enjoyed Aaron. He's a great person, an easy person to live with for those six weeks. He has a magnetic personality that people will love to watch on television. I wish him all the success in the world."
The feeling must be mutual, because McCargo traveled to Salt Lake City for Nixon's wedding. So there were no hard feelings when McCargo won the "Throwdown" cooking challenge over Nixon, a factor in her exit from the show?
"There are no hard feelings at all," she said. "That challenge was solely based on cooking ability. It was my weakness and his strength."
Although Nixon said she was the least experienced cook of all the finalists, she proved her mettle. "It was lucky for me that I won the most important challenges with the best benefits, such as being published in Bon Appetite and having my dish featured in Red Lobster restaurants," she said.
But Nixon still feels most confident about her TV presence, after starring in 100 episodes of her own cooking show, "Kelsey's Kitchen," while at BYU.
"I'm as comfortable being in front on the camera as I am being on my couch at home," she said.
For viewers who noted the culinary chemistry between Nixon and finalist Shane Lyons yes, a possible show involving the duo "Is on the table, but whether we're going to pursue it is up in the air."Her advice to future finalists is, "Come up with a culinary point of view and know exactly what it is. And learn to make a lot of dishes in under 30 minutes with limited ingredients, because that seemed to be every challenge. That's unfortunate because I don't think all your dishes have to be cooked that quickly. It just makes it interesting for TV."