Stark Raving Rad
The ebullient Emily Ellyn shimmers and simmers with a retro persona that has made her a foodie darling.
In a bouncy blue dress, red leather headband, cat-eye glasses and diamond starburst earrings, Emily Ellyn might seem at first glance to be just another local hipster. But her retro, flirty looks and spirited attitude is part genuine character and part carefully crafted image, one that propelled the 30-year-old onto the Food Network Star reality TV show earlier this year and gave her national exposure.
The days since her run on the eighth season of the popular program have been busy: She regularly consults with restaurants and has appeared at the Taste of Atlanta Festival, Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival and local foodie events.
“I get recognized a lot,” she says, a wicker basket at her feet (yes, she travels with a picnic) that is full of jams from the Winter Park Farmers Market. “I enjoy it, but I haven’t changed as a person. I was planning my own TV show two years before Food Network ever called.”
Ellyn made it to round seven before being eliminated, joking with chefs Alton Brown and Guy Fieri and putting a new spin on classic American dishes such as chicken stew and burgers. Home cooking is her territory; she takes old recipes, tools and techniques like canning and pickling, and makes them new.
When Food Network asked viewers which eliminated contestant they’d like to see back, Ellyn was the overwhelming choice, garnering fans for her fashion sense as much as her food: Her country ham, pineapple and cherry salad creation called “Hats Off to Ham” came with a matching edible ham headpiece.
Ellyn was brought up in small-town Mantua, Ohio, population 1,000 (“It’s pronounced MANaway,” she says. “Don’t ask me why.”). She says her mother—photographer, painter and sculptor Carol Hummel—was the heart of the town. “My mom adopted everyone,” Ellyn says. “All the neighborhood kids were in our kitchen.” September is Potato Festival time in Mantua, with highlights including spud wrestling and the world’s largest serving of mashed potatoes and gravy. Ellyn’s first starchy taste of fame was her reign as 1996-97 Potato Festival Queen.
She happened to run across the name of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America (“It sounded like something I’d like to do.”), which took her to upstate New York, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in restaurant management and a teaching assistant position. From there, a master’s from Academie Internationale de Management in Paris, and a second master’s and Ph.D from UCF’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management seemed the natural course. You could safely call her a smart cookie without fear of insulting her.
Copyright, FOOD NETWORK
Ellen crafts every part of her look with how it affects her potential audience. She’s well schooled: Her doctoral dissertation was on emotions in the dining experience. An entire page of her website (emilyellyn.com) is devoted to the outfits she wore on the Food Network show (Week 4: AG Jeans, Nikibiki tank, Anthropologie sweater, AnotherLine blue belt), and her fans notice. One of her online followers went so far as to comment, “I find her attractive and smart with a simmering sensuality.”
She’s planning further web excursions under her RetroRad TV label, everything from cooking instruction to dating tips. She has her own production company, calendars, cookbooks and YouTube channel, and designs aprons and accessories. And she’s convinced a television show is just around the corner.
“My goal was never to win that show,” she says of her Food Network experience. “It was to win a show. This is my dream; there is no just in case.”
While having coffee and a panini at Palmano’s in Winter Park, the bubbly platinum blonde is approached by two fans of the show and a well-known local author, all of whom are embraced with genuine glee. “You should have won,” a woman says, and Ellyn enthusiastically thanks her and agrees.
“I’m very grateful, but this doesn’t feel like fame,” she says. “My list of friends has just gotten bigger to include people I don’t know, and they’re invited to my table.”
In other words, she’s adopting people, just like her mom.
Want to try some of Emily Ellyn’s recipes? Go to emilyellyn.com and click on “Remix.’’ Or go to foodnetwork.com and search Emily Ellyn’s name.