Kelsey Nixon had a pinch-me moment last year, when she found herself on camera, making holiday cookies with singer John Legend and his fiancée, supermodel Chrissy Teigen, while they filmed Cooking Channel’s “Cookies and Cocktails.”
“It was such a surreal moment for me,” Kelsey told The Alternative Press. “I kept thinking ‘I can’t believe I’m here.’”
Perhaps Legend and Teigen should have been the ones pinching themselves over the chance to make cookies with Kelsey, the petite blonde with the big smile who shows everyone how to make kitchen staples into amazing dishes every week on her show, “Kelsey’s Essentials.”
A finalist in season four of “The Next Food Network Star,” Kelsey said she sometimes still can’t quite believe how fortunate she is to be doing what she loves. Raised in a small farming town in Utah, Kelsey went to college to be a broadcast journalist broadcast. She quickly learned that news wasn’t for her, so she applied for an internship at Martha Stewart Living, and ended up working on the show “Everyday Foods.”
“I found my calling in food TV,” Kelsey said. “I grew up in a family that values food and now I had discovered this new passion for TV, so it seemed like a great career path.”
She started making a local cooking show on her campus. “Kelsey’s Kitchen” featured fast, fun and affordable meals for college students.
“I dread the day that surfaces again because it was really terrible,” she said. “But we had a great time. I was very proud of it.” The show aired for two years on her university’s cable network.
After finishing her undergraduate degree, Kelsey went to culinary school in Los Angeles, then got a job as a private chef for a family in Beverly Hills.
“I had to cook kosher for them,” she recalled. “It was as a good experience. I really came to love that family.”
When she decided to apply to be on “The Next Food Network Star,” she said she didn’t know what to expect. What she got was “a million dollar experience I wouldn’t pay a dollar to do again.”
“I have newfound respect for anyone who does any kind of reality show,” Kelsey said. “I didn’t win, but I did well and network continued to work with me. They invited me back to participate in other programs as a guest. I think they were really testing me to see if I had it in me to do anymore.”
Have it in her she did. The petite powerhouse, with help from her mentor, Bobby Flay, jumped right into her now-popular show, “Kelsey’s Essentials,” which she calls a fresh approach to the basics.
“When the Cooking Channel launched, it was a good opportunity to take good, strong scripts and make them for 2.0 viewers,” she said. “It was about cooking and not entertainment. ‘Kelsey’s Essentials’ is important for the Cooking Channel in that regard. It’s about getting back to cooking. The recipes we choose are approachable enough for anyone.”
As long as you can do it without getting a ticket.
“We did a whole episode on indoor grilling, because when I first moved to New York City, I learned quickly that it’s illegal to grill on the fire escape. We were making sausages and got a ticket,” Kelsey explained. “So I was on this mission to show how you can get the same great flavors on an indoor grill. That’s very much the format of the show – basic tools and techniques that anyone can use.”
She even takes on baking, something that can make even the most veteran chefs want to pull their aprons over their heads.
“The hardest thing about baking is following the rules,” Kelsey admitted. “I do enjoy baking, but for different reasons than cooking. Baking is heartwarming, it’s about traditions. Cooking is more of a creative expression.”
But some baking, like homemade bread, can be a challenge for a show that’s about basics and simplicity.
“How do you get the taste of fresh bread without having to wait for it to rise? What are the simplest, most essential breads that we can show our viewers that don’t take forever to do?” Kelsey explained. “Those are the things we consider when we’re working on the show.”
A lot of the ideas and recipes for her shows come from her viewers, with whom she interacts through Twitter and Facebook.
“I really enjoy connecting with viewers that way,” she said.
While “Kelsey’s Essentials” continues to build a following, and Kelsey becomes more and more of a familiar face among the celebrity chefs, the sunny farm girl is still smiling to herself, enjoying the ride.
“It’s been fun to build up friendships with everyone at the Cooking Channel,” she said. “The people here are like family to me. Everyone supports one another, and that’s nice. It’s really a dream job. I’m so grateful for every opportunity.”
“Kelsey’s Essentials” airs Saturdays at 4 p.m. on Cooking Channel.