Cooking Channel star Kelsey Nixon debuted on national television as a contestant on the fourth cycle of “The Next Food Network Star” in 2008. Although the bubbly blonde didn’t take the title, her charm, kitchen chops, and popularity with viewers –who voted her fan-favorite– earned her a show of her own, and “Kelsey’s Essentials” began airing in November of 2010.
With the goal of establishing healthy eating habits for her son in mind, Nixon recently teamed up with Nature’s Harvest breads to launch an exciting new sandwich art photo contest that allows fans to submit their creative concepts for a chance to meet the chef in person. Examiner caught up with Nixon on Aug. 25 to get the skinny on the contest, her post-“Food Network Star” life, and culinary great Bobby Flay.
Sherry Wight: As a parent, I know that including whole grains in my kids’ meals is important, but somehow, just saying ‘hey, let’s eat healthy stuff!’ doesn’t make it appealing to them. How can I get them into my picky eaters’ diets?
Kelsey Nixon: It’s a great question; a question that all parents think about. I’ve got a three-year old son, Oliver, who’s just learned that it’s okay to be picky about food. So we’re constantly thinking of creative ways to get those nutritious ingredients to the table.
Nature’s Harvest just recently conducted a survey and of the moms who were surveyed, over 80 percent… said that once the school year starts, they start raising the bar when it comes to [nutrition]. For many of them, that starts with packing the lunch and sending them off to school. For us, it’s all about creative ways to package that sandwich so they’re a little more excited to eat it.
SW: What’s a Kitchen Crash and how can we win one?
KN: We’re holding this contest and we want to see people’s creative sandwich creations. We’ve got some judging criteria: visual appeal, creativity, the way in which you use nutritious ingredients. Whoever wins gets a Kitchen Crash from me. I will be coming to your home kitchen, sitting at your dinner table making sandwich-centric meals, and as parents, we can dish about nutritional tips and way we can get our kids more excited about eating better.
SW: That sounds like fun! Where do we go to get more information?
KN: Sure. You’re going to head to the Nature’s Harvest Facebook page. There you’ll see the criteria… and most importantly, a few ideas to inspire you. [See video for examples.]
SW: Cool! Now I’d like to go back to the roots of your TV career, if I may. What do you think is the most important thing you learned from competing on “The Next Food Network Star”?
KN: Oh my gosh. It was actually a piece of advice given to me by Bobby Flay, who is one of the greats in television. He told me when I did the show that there’s no substitute for experience. I was really young [at the time] and I left the show after not winning and was determined to get as much experience as possible and to really think about what it was that I wanted to say to people about food. Ironically enough, Bobby continued to mentor me and he executive produces my show now for Cooking Channel, so [he] has remained a really important person to me throughout my career and I’ve never forgotten that piece of advice.
SW: So speaking of Mr. Flay, since you know him, use three words that you think best describe him.
KN: Oh my gosh. Genuine. He’s the same person on television that he is in real life. Very hard-working. You will find him cooking in his own restaurants on a regular basis. And loyal.
SW: Here’s a challenge for you. I know that there are a lot of episodes of “Kelsey’s Essentials” out there. Which is the one that every single home cook needs to stop right now and watch?
KN: That is a really good question, and actually a question that no one has ever asked me before. This is tricky…. My favorite season was season three… and I [did] an episode on easy entertaining: my favorite meals that I make when people come over last minute, or let’s be honest, not even when they’re coming over last minute, but when I just don’t want to [do] a lot of work…. That’s a really fun episode. There’s a great slow cooker recipe in that episode. It’s kind of got a summer theme, so there’s a good corn salad recipe that’s something I make really often, and the most delicious sheet cake that works for a variety of occasions.
SW: Good! I’m impressed that you came up with that so quickly, given how many you had to pick from. Now, I dream of having multiple ovens, but my kitchen’s actually relatively small. I always wonder this: what are a few key elements that you would want in your dream chef’s paradise kitchen?
KN: Oh my gosh. I don’t have that kitchen, because I live in New York City so my kitchen’s very, very small. I’m really short. I’m five-one on a good day, so in my dream kitchen, all of the countertops would be about two inches lower than everyone else’s countertops. And I know this sounds really silly, but you know those libraries with the rolling ladders? I want one of those in the kitchen because I can never reach anything on the shelves. They’re so high up that I’m constantly climbing on top my countertops to pull things out.
SW: I’m five-seven and I can’t reach the top shelf in my kitchen. What new projects do you have coming up?
KN: I just launched a product line with HSN, which was has been so much fun. [It] takes the whole idea of “Kelsey’s Essentials”; the basics that I think everyone should know about and have in their kitchen. I had a lot of fun creating those products. I’m doing fun stuff with Nature’s Harvest [including] launching this contest, and I’m just getting ready to shoot a brand new series for Cooking Channel.
SW: Sounds like fun! Any bits of information about what it’ll be about?
KN: It’s going to be all of the best stuff about “Kelsey’s Essentials”… but it’s going to be a little bit more lifestyle-infused. My son Ollie’s going to be on the show with me a little bit, and what I’m really focusing on is sharing those tips and solutions that work in my home kitchen that I use to survive being a… working mom busy with kids and making things that my family loves. So I’m hoping it’s going to be really genuine, really authentic, and I can’t wait.
SW: Have any idea when it’ll premiere?
KN: Probably November, but that’s not official. Hopefully by the end of the year.
SW: I like the close these things out with random questions, so I have a few and-ors for you. Sweet or savory?
SW: Chocolate or cheese?
KN: Cheese. Just barely, though.
SW: Ocean or mountains?
KN: I grew up in the mountains, but I think I want to end up near the ocean, so I’m going to say ocean.
SW: And TV or radio?
KN: Is podcast an option?
SW: Sure, you can add podcast.
KN: I’m really into podcasts lately.
SW: Have a favorite?
KN: I love “Mystery Show.” It’s awesome. You should look it up.