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September 2018 Edition
Emily Ellyn, Retro Rad Television Chef, National Brand Spokesperson, and Food Writer
Chef and culinary educator Emily Ellyn is the Home Economics teacher you’ve always wanted! She’s the mother of Retro Rad cooking and encourages everyone to dig through their family recipe box, dust off their pressure cookers, and take the old and make it new. She takes the retro, remixes it, and makes it RAD.
What do you get when you mix down-home values with quirky up-town flair and a solid culinary education? A deliciously unique cooking personality!
- Chef Emily Ellyn
You have roots in Ohio growing up on your family’s farm, was that your culinary driver or was there another moment in your life where you knew that cooking was in your DNA?
Well, I think it was a balance of nature and nurture. Yet, funny enough the nurture part came in nature…
I grew up on a Christmas tree farm in the small town of Mantua, Ohio. Along with my sister (and constant childhood companion), we explored and experimented our way through our country childhood — raising chickens, turkeys, pigs, cows, donkeys, and horses.
We also learned to plant, pick, process, and pickle at an early age. Each year we hoped to beat the previous years’ preserving records, and in fact, I still keep track of my record years. This year I have already canned and frozen nearly 100 quarts of produce and that is just from my little urban garden in the middle of Orlando!
So, YES! Growing up on a farm had a big impact on me.
My family grew and raised nearly everything we ate. We cooked nearly every meal and would sit down around the dinner table together to celebrate the food we grew and harvested. As a result, I know where things come from — I lived and breathed the process from seed to table!
As a toddler on the farm, I would follow the Christmas tree planter and stomp the soil around the baby tree saplings. I teethed on spring onions from the garden. I could kill and dress a chicken by the age of 5. I am what I eat and understand food as being a fundamental part of life. I understand raw ingredients and how to prepare them so it is now more interesting for me to teach that part of the process and focus on some of the other elements like creatively remixing recipes.
And, through it all I had this innate drive to pursue culinary arts! I knew I wanted to cook and feed people this lifetime from a very young age! From the time I could fire up the stove, I was cooking, planning parties, and taking care of the seemingly endless parade of people that trooped through our kitchen. Not surprisingly, this fueled the idea that I was destined to be in the hospitality industry from birth.
You call yourself the mother of “Retro RAD”, could you tell us a little more about what that means and how it has an influence on cooking?
I started this idea of “Retro Rad” at a very young age. My aunt made me a poodle skirt when I was in grade school and I wore it until the poodle ran off! I also would beg my mom to draw cat eyes on me with eyeliner any chance I got.
At about age 10, my mom said it was time to learn about the entire era, not just the cool fashion pieces, so she bought us a matching pair of saddle shoes and took me to a real 1950s diner. I fell in love!
It resonates with me when I put on my cat-eye glasses and vintage dresses. It transports me to times when things were easy and perfect, where perfect homes were effortless like “Leave It to Beaver.”
As a result, I have embraced this Retro Rad persona and encourage everyone to dig through their mom’s recipe box, dust off their pressure cookers and crockpots, and embrace the old in a new and rad way.
You’ve been in many publications, television shows, and even maybe made an appearance in the Simpsons. Did you ever imagine that your culinary path would bring you to these types of experiences?
No. Well, yes and no!
As I said, I have always wanted to cook. And, I also felt that I would be an opera singing chef and of course I would be on television sharing my talents. The funny thing is, I never heard the you can’t and you won’t. I was extremely luck that when I decided to start a catering company at age 12, my parents were there to encourage me. My sister and I catered parties for my parents’ company and for many of our friends. When I headed off to the Culinary Institute of America, I learned to cook like a professional, but I also dedicated myself to helping other students excel. I was always teaching, even as I transitioned from singing chef to a culinary professional with two masters, and then as a doctoral candidate in Food Service Education.
This pursuit of education led me to teaching food to larger audiences, both on television and at food and wine events around the country. I have learned that in teaching and sharing ideas and resources, the more I give, the more I receive.
Today my work continues to enhance my understanding of the true meaning of compassion, respect, and kindness -- qualities that I believe need to be nurtured in our world. I can only hope I encourage the same in others.
Just as I strive to inspire, teach, and fulfill my goals I stay open to the greater world around me - being inspired, learning, and becoming more aware on reshaping how to achieve my goals and even tailoring my goals to better suit me.
The accolades along the way are fun benchmarks to my hard work and determination.
You have a mission to bring back a retro style into your cooking, what is one thing that you love incorporating into your recipes that really drives the retro theme home for you?
The understanding of the stories behind the food and its history…it inspires the next evolution of the recipe!
Take for instance our beloved meal as a child, the Peanut butter and Jelly Sandwich! In the early 1900s cocktail culture started coming into vogue. And, like tea time there were little tasty food offerings that were enjoyed with your drinks and then you were able to commune with guests without being obligated to long dinner parties.
A new and exciting offerings of the day were little tea sandwiches with a nut or peanut paste, celery or vegetables with jellied aspics with suspended fruit like raisins, and then there were jellied aspic sandwiches with meat and shellfish in them. It does not take the most creative cook to eventually put peanut butter in the celery and raisins on top to create “Ants on a Log” and then start combining the salty nut pastes with the sweeter jellies to make the most incredible invention of all time - the “Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich”!
Simultaneously, as pop culture adopted some the practices of the rich and a PB&J variation was an easy fancy food to serve, the World Wars impacted meat rations, and the availability of peanuts as a source of protein grew and the prices fell. Peanut butter was available to the masses and every household had jellies and jams canned in there food cellars.
I HAD to rethink this throwback to our childhood and tell the story while I taught how to can and preserve the jelly…the following “Wine Jelly Snow Cone with Peanut Butter Powder” was how I did it.
Peanut Butter and Wine Jelly “Snow Cones”
Courtesy of Retro Rad Chef Emily Ellyn – More at EmilyEllyn.com
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 25 – 35 minutes
Total Time: 40 – 50 minutes
Yield: 10 (3 ounce) individual portions or 21 (1 ½ ounce) party portions
Red Wine Jelly Snow
2 cups Red Wine
2 cups Red Wine Berry Jelly (see recipe below or substitute with grape jelly)
Peanut Butter Powder
10 grams smooth all natural smooth peanut butter
3.5 - 4 grams tapioca maltodextrin (tapioca starch)
Prepare Red Wine Jelly Snow by combining wine and jelly in a half hotel pan. Place in freezer until frozen.
Prepare peanut butter powder by placing peanut butter and tapioca maltodextrin in a food processor and grind together until a fine powder forms. If lumpy, pass the resulting mixture through a drum sieve or strainer.
Transfer to an airtight container and reserve in a cool, dry place. The powder will keep for 1 week before it starts to dry out.
To assemble, spoon 1-2 ounces of the Wine Jelly Snow and top with a ½ to 1 ounce sprinkle (or form into a quenelle) of Peanut Butter Snow. Serve in a martini glass.
Note: If there is not time to freeze, spoon 2 ounces shaved ice in the serving vessel and pour 1 ounce Wine Jelly Snow (pre-freezing in syrup form) and top with a ½ to 1 ounce sprinkle of Peanut Butter Snow.
Red Blended Berry Jelly
Courtesy Retro Rad Chef, More at EmilyEllyn.com
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 25 - 30 minutes
Yield: 12 - 13 (8 ounce) jars
1 (750-milliliter) bottle red wine
¼ cup ginger jelly (or sub fresh minced)
4 each cinnamon sticks
10 each whole cloves
3 each whole star anise
10 cups fresh or frozen mixed berries
1 lemon, zest finely grated
2 cups sugar
2 (1.75-ounces) packages Sure Jell
Pour red wine into a large sauce pot and bring it to a simmer. Add ginger, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, and lemon zest and simmer on low heat for 10 minutes.
Add mixed berries and bring the mixture to a rolling boil.
Meanwhile in a medium sized bowl whisk the sugar and Sure Jell together - this will keep the pectin from clumping up.
When the berries are boiling, stir in the sugar and pectin.
Once the jelly has reached a rolling boil again you can turn down the heat and keep it at a low boil for about 5 minutes, stirring often.
Do the jam test - pour a little down the back of a frozen spoon. Run your finger through it. It should make a path that stays open. If not, boil a few more minutes and test again. Your jam is done when the jam coats the back of the spoon according to the spoon test!
Serve or can according to Retro Rad Home Canning Instructions found at EmilyEllyn.com.
Refrigerate after opening. Unopened jelly will last for up to 6 months.
Who had been your most impactful mentor in your culinary career and what has set them apart from everyone else you’ve worked with?
I’ve not been one to seek out a mentor, but I have found A LOT of support and council from my friends and family.
My mother, Carol Hummel and sister, Molly Sedensky are my sounding board and editors for all my projects. I trust there advice and we have always been able to muse together and literally cook up fabulous ideas.
On another note, I am constantly reading and I am always absorbing information. I make it a point to learn from every person I meet and conversation I have.
You’re currently working on your first cookbook, can we have a sneak peak on some of your favorite recipes you’re working on for it?
Well, I don’t want to give it all away, yet, BUT inspired by those ever-so-popular meals-in-a-box packed in nifty foil trays that never fail to evoke nostalgic memories of family, food and suburban bliss, provide the inspiration for my recipe remixes in the upcoming book!
As I celebrate 50’s Americana history I will give simple fast one pot or tray meals that can then be easily transformed into dinner parties.
As we all know, hindsight is 20/20, is there anything that you would’ve done differently from the beginning of your career to where you are now?
NEVER DOUBT! Keep your eye on the prize and NEVER LET OTHERS GET IN YOUR HEAD. There is a reason that you have passions that drive you. Really be conscious of your inner voice and what moves you. I feel that we all have a calling and you will always know you are on the right path when it excites you to the nth degree!
I had to make a living and my logical mind got influenced many a time by seeing little opportunities that were not wrong to take, but in looking back have kept me from my ultimate goals of being a cookbook author and television host.
With that being said, although I have taken some detours I am keeping to my script for the rest of this journey!
What was your favorite piece of advice that you have ever been given by someone you have working in the industry with?
I’ve had a lot of nuggets of information bestowed upon me BUT, when I was at the Culinary Institute of America transitioning from the associate program into the bachelors program something was said to me by quite a few of my professors and chef instructors AND it really resonated with me and it changed the course of my career — I was told that while I was a great student and excellent cook, I should be out of the kitchen and in the “front of the house” where I would be working directly with the people. I was also continually encouraged to go into teaching.
What is one thing you’re most passionate about in the culinary world right now and what makes you so passionate about it?
The minds of these new chefs! I am never ceased to be amazed!!
I am REALLY proud of our industry, and the resurgence of understanding FOOD - where it comes from, how to utilize the entirety of the species harvesting and slaughtering (such respect is given in not wasting) and although technology is advancing and we have more processed foods there are others giving attention to understanding EVERYTHING - the medicinal properties to superior cooking methods.
I always joke and say, “wow! This farm-to-table movement has everyone back on the farm from my childhood…in those days we called it EATING and COOKING!
Well, ya know?! I guess the industry is moving into the Retro Rad era of cooking - understanding the ROOTS and then REMIXING to be RAD/it’s coolest best used and celebrated form!!
What do you see in your future plans in the culinary world?
I am continually cooking up new projects AND soon enough I will be on “HGTV’s “House Hunters where I purchase my new home and build out my new kitchen. All those details will be on my website www.emilyellyn.com. I am also working on completing a couple of book projects, and there are some television opportunities I’m looking into pursuing. Of course, my ultimate goal is having my own television show.
If you could be any item in the kitchen what would you be?
The stove/hearth! It has always been the heart of the home.
My mantra is to nourish people through their hearts and minds as well as their stomachs. I strive to inspire and empower people to achieve their goals and dreams. I travel the world cooking and speaking, as well as doing volunteer work for many noteworthy organizations.
I consider it an honor to have a career that enables me to meet so many wonderful people. Through this interaction, I find that I am also constantly learning life lessons. Giving and receiving is -- for me -- an ever-growing circle of inspiration and fulfillment.
If you had to go to a deserted island and could only bring 3 things to eat, what would they be?
My seed box! And, if I had to choose three varietals it would be the hardiest bean, corn, and squash. If the native Americans survived off of the “three sisters” then I think I could cultivate and sustain a pretty good existence on a deserted island…and, if the growing conditions were bad I could at least survive off of these three staples long enough to swim in the ocean, bask in the sun, and contemplate my existence.
I’m at www.EmilyEllyn.com and all my click-thrus to instagram, twitter and facebook are all there :)
PS this is my favorite question EVER asked. It was asked in an interview in “Lake and Sumter ‘Style’ Magazine” in
The Question: What would you say to someone out there who is thinking of a culinary career?
I would say go for it!
Now, of course I would also ask the following questions: Are you ready to work hard, long hours with little money, not see your friends and family for weeks, and leave work when it is last call and the only things open are tattoo parlors and bars? Are you ready to watch all of your peers’ marriages end and work in extreme conditions where you are burned, cut, and yelled at constantly? Do you want to experience all of that while creating amazing food and accomplishing unexplained instant gratification as you work a line cranking out hundreds of dishes a day? Do you want to create dining experiences for the masses, make the world’s special occasions memorable, and open new establishments that will foster these memories? Do you want to experience the closest friendships ever bound by the love of the craft, sweat, and tears?
If after all of that, you are still interested, I suggest trying it out first before making a lifetime commitment. Just see if you have what it takes. You may need to work a summer in a hot basement kitchen peeling 80,000 potatoes and washing pots and pans until your skin is scoured off before you really know.
Then if you still love it, do it! Work in it, fall deeply in love with the business, and then work your way through school. Get a degree so that when you can barely walk from standing on concrete floors and picking up heavy pots all day, and your hands are so arthritic you can barely grip your clever, you “retire” into management, teaching, or owning your own business.
May 2018 Chef Insight - Interview with Michelle Bernstein, Chef and Owner, Crumb on Parchment and Michelle Bernstein Catering
April 2018 Chef Insights - Interview with Claire M. Marin, CEO, Catskill Provisions
March 2018 Chef Insights - Interview with Chef Elizabeth Falkner
February 2018 Chef Insights - Interview with Chef Maneet Chauhan
January 2018 Chef Insights - Interview with Chef Reinhold Paul Teuscher