Star-a-Day: Nancy Manlove

Get to know Nancy Manlove, a finalist competing on Food Network Star, Season 13.

Photo by: Eddy Chen

Eddy Chen

It was just last week that we here at Star Talk broke the news about the upcoming season of Food Network Star, which kicks off on Sunday, June 4 at 9|8c. Among a crop of talented hopefuls judge-mentors extraordinaire Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis will search for that one contender who has the coveted combo of culinary chops and on-camera charm. Each of the 12 finalists comes to the Star stage with unique personalities and kitchen experiences, and in the coming days, we'll introduce you to all of them. Today we'd like you to meet Nancy Manlove.

Known among her family and friends for her abundance of energy, Nancy, 65, can lighten up any room. After previously working for NASA, Nancy decided a career change was in order and went back to school to receive her culinary arts degree. Having won food competitions and currently the chef de cuisine at a farm-to-table restaurant, Nancy wants to get cooks of all ages into the kitchen and prove that you are never too late to follow your dreams.

Describe your culinary POV in one sentence.

Nancy Manlove: It is Nanna in the kitchen. I’m going to hopefully inspire other generations to pick up a spatula, turn an egg, cook some bacon, maybe visit with other nanas and gigis and grandmothers. We all learn from moms and grandmothers, and I want to instill that in a cooking show.

What would you most like to learn from Bobby and Giada, be it something in the kitchen or on camera?

NM: They have so much to offer. I don’t think I could put a finger on one thing, but Bobby Flay with his grilling expertise, Giada with her Italian expertise. I have my own expertise, and it’s neither one of those, so I know I can pick up things from them.

What do you think is the most valuable thing you could teach a Food Network viewer?

NM: How to inspire someone else to want to cook a recipe — not that they don’t already do that — but one of my recipes.

How did you prepare for this competition?

NM: There's nothing you can practice to prepare for something like this. You just have to be good at what you do, or why put yourself out there for embarrassment? I’ve been learning every day of my life for 65 years, and I’ve always been an excellent home cook. [I] went back to school and became a professional chef at the glorious age of 60, and I just decided that I was going to be good or I wasn’t going to do it. And I’m just enjoying the heck out of it, so I don’t think I prepared for it thinking that this would be the end result. It just happened. The journey happened to come to this Y in the road, and here I am.

Which part of this contest — the cooking or the camera work — intimidates you the most? Please explain.

NM: I’d have to say the camera because I’ve never had my life shown on camera to the extent that this is going to be. I think I can conquer the cooking aspect of it unless I just become a ball of nerves, [and] I don’t see that happening. In my corporate-America life, I had a chance to stand in front of a classroom and be the subject of inspiration to my students, whether it was in customer service or anything. I did a lot of public speaking. I’m not camera shy, so I think it’s not going to be a piece of cake, but it’s not going to be as intimidating as I hope it will not be. That’s probably going to be the anchor that I’m going to learn to have to get myself untethered from. To just set myself free and be free and be myself regardless of the cameras.

Win or lose, what do you want to take away from this experience?

NM: It is an experience. It’s a journey. How many people at my age, or any age, get a chance to do this in life? To do what you love, love what you do and to be on Food Network in this capacity It’s another grandma story that I will tell for many, many years.

What does the term "Food Network Star" represent to you?

NM: I grew up watching Julia Child and listening to Justin Wilson on the radio, because he was a famous chef on the Gulf Coast — Louisiana and Mississippi — and we listened to him at night on the radio. They were precursors to what we know as Food Network. And when Food Network came out ... I was glued to my TV set. Absolutely glued. It is the ultimate broadcast service of fine cooking instructions. There’s no more Julia, there’s no more Justin Wilson. And y’all have managed to keep that going, and I’m always recording something. ... It’s everything to me. Everything. I’ve learned so much from Food Network.

What's your greatest strength in the kitchen?

NM: I have a flare for international cooking. Spanish, not Tex Mex, Spanish. I love Asian. I love Southern. I can cook a variety of foods. I’ve learned a whole lot of South American and Peruvian, and I’m also on the cutting edge with molecular. I haven’t learned a whole lot, but I do know some. And that’s the type of chef and food that we present at the restaurant that I am on the brigade of. So, it’s a whole different gamut, and I hope to bring some of it in some of the dishes that I get to choose to cook.

What is the strangest thing we'd find in your refrigerator right now?
NM: It’s black squid ink.
Let's say it's a regular Tuesday night and you're at home. What are you having for dinner?

NM: It might be spaghetti and meatballs, it might be meatloaf, it might be a pasta dish, it might be seafood. It might be a can of tuna. It might be shrimp.

What do you consider to be your signature dish?

NM: I have a fabulous gumbo. It’s not like any other gumbo that you’ve ever eaten. The base of it is eggplant, and it’s real avant-garde. It has curry and rosemary in it. And it ends up more like a bisque than a gumbo. It’s not chunky. It’s just unbelievable.

What dish or ingredient will you simply not eat?

NM: I don’t ever put on my prep table anything that resembles a roach, an insect, a rodent.

What's your favorite guilty pleasure food?

NM: Soufflés, and I make anything from a bacon soufflé to a double-chocolate soufflé to a bread pudding soufflé.

What's one dish you have to have at your last supper?
NM: Eggs Benedict. Homemade.
What do you want to say about yourself to fans watching at home?

NM: Thank you for being a fan, number one. And I hope that I can inspire you to cook one of my recipes and tell me know you liked it. If I can get that across to people in the audience, then I’ve done my job. And it is a job. Talent's no good unless it’s shared. So, I’m hoping that it will inspire someone to try that recipe.

What's the first dish aspiring cooks should master?

NM: In the professional culinary world, a chef earns a hat, and the number of pleats that’s in that hat is dictated by how many ways they can cook an egg. If you can cook an egg, you’ve got dinner, right? Learn as many ways of cooking an egg as you possibly can, and just grow from there. There’s no cutting with an egg — you can throw it in skillet whole, right? You can put it in a pot of water and boil it, right? You don’t even have to peel it till later, right? So, learn the magnificent ways to cook an egg.

Mark your calendar for the premiere of Food Network Star on Sunday, June 4 at 9|8c.

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