Kelsey's back to 'Essentials'

Story by Valerie Phillips
(Standard-Examiner correspondent)
Mon, Jun 24, 2013
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A few days after her star-studded night at the Daytime Emmy Awards, Kelsey Nixon enthusiastically described it as a “grown-up prom” in a telephone interview.

Nixon, who grew up in North Ogden, was a nominee for Outstanding Culinary Host for her Cooking Channel series, “Kelsey’s Essentials.” Her Facebook page shows a glammed-up Nixon in jewels and sequins at the June 16 events, posing happily with fellow nominees Giada De Laurentiis and Ina Garten.

Nixon said a highlight of her evening was being seated next to Garten, of “The Barefoot Contessa” series. Although the two are part of the Food Network’s conglomerate, they had never met.

Though Nixon lost out to Lidia Bastianich of PBS’ “Lidia’s Italy,” she said, “Cheesy as it may sound, I felt like I was going home a winner just to have my name on the same list as some of the other nominees.”

After all, it was only five years ago that a hopeful Nixon competed on the reality TV series “The Next Food Network Star,” with only a Brigham Young University cooking show under her belt.

Although she didn’t win, viewers were impressed enough to vote her the Fan Favorite. When the Food Network launched its Cooking Channel for a younger demographic, Nixon was offered a shot at her own show.

Her Daytime Emmy nomination caps off an eventful year, as “Kelsey’s Essentials” begins its fifth season on prime time July 3.

On June 24, 2012, her son Oliver was born three months premature and weighing just 2 pounds. It was a challenging time for Nixon and her husband, Robby Egan, while Oliver spent his first months in a neonatal intensive care unit.

Now at age 1, “He’s now happy, healthy, doing fantastic,” she said. “We have really been blessed not to have any complications.”

She also wrote a cookbook this past year. Pre-ordered copies of “Kitchen Confidence: Essential Recipes and Tips That Will Help You Cook Anything”(Clarkson Potter, $19.99) are now available on Amazon.com.

“It was interesting, because last year at the end of filming, I was all ready to spend three months focused on writing my book before the baby came. And then the baby came three months early,” she said.

“But when he was in the hospital, it wasn’t healthy for me to be there with him every hour of the day. It was emotionally draining. So I would spend the mornings at home working on the book before going to the hospital. About a week before he came home from the hospital, I turned in my manuscript to the publisher.”

She described blending motherhood with a career as “really hard, but really rewarding.”

“People talk about ‘life and work balance,’ but I don’t think ‘balance’ is a good way to describe it. I think ‘juggling’ is a better description. But what’s been so great is that as he has started to eat food, my two worlds have intersected. Food is something I can bring into my home and nourish my family with.”

Also, her career affords her time at home, instead of heading to an office every day. “I’m able to do all my recipe development and writing from home. The only time I’m out of the home is when I’m filming, or if I have a meeting.”

What people may not realize is that the entire 13-episode season of “Kelsey’s Essentials” is usually filmed in a three-week period.

“This time, I brought my mom to New York, and she spent some great quality time with Oliver while I was filming.”

When asked some of her favorite dining haunts on her visits home, “My mom’s cooking,” was her first response.

But she also likes to stop at Kirt’s Family Drive-In on Washington Boulevard, and Tona on 25th Street for sushi. “And we always have to make a trip to Chick-fil-A because we don’t have any in New York!”

This new season of “Kelsey’s Essentials” is focusing on “how to take what is trending right now in foods and re-create it at home,” she said.

“For instance, we have an episode on salts, because the trend is going beyond table salt — even cooking on salt blocks — and how to take that trend into your own kitchen.”

The premiere episode features another hot trend — fiery foods. “I didn’t have a high tolerance for spicy foods, but after doing the show, I’ve become a hot-sauce addict,” she said. “I can’t believe I’ve flipped the switch!”

A new project for Nixon is filming episodes for ULIVE.com, a digital platform launched by the owners of the Food Network and the Cooking Channel.

“People can watch all the episodes of ‘Kelsey’s Essentials’ there, but we are also creating other programming,” she said. “I did a series of little parenting episodes for first-time parents. And I’m working on another series about how to make meals for Mom, Dad and baby, so you’re not making multiple meals at night. We filmed it in my house, so it’s a real snapshot of my actual life.”

This season, there’s another Utahn competing on “The Next Food Network Star.” Given Nixon’s success, what advice can she offer contestant Viet Pham?

“Don’t take any criticism too personally. While you’re there, you end up with tunnel vision; every critique felt like a personal attack in a way,” said Nixon, who was sometimes judged harshly for her naturally bubbly personality. “Just maintain your genuine self through the show, and don’t let your critiques get you down.”

At the show’s conclusion, it’s important to take advantage of the momentum.

“That show opens so many doors for you, whether you win or lose,” she said. “But it’s critical to work hard within the first year to take advantage of those opportunities. I fostered the relationships that were offered up right after the show; because that’s when people are most interested in working with you.”

Valerie Phillips blogs at www.chewandchat.blogspot.com.

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