“Stay focused. There’s still room for you in this career. I know we’re in a really weird and awkward time, but don’t let this be the reason that you step away from your passion. There is still plenty of space for you in this industry.”
These words of comfort and encouragement came from NECAT’s newest board member, Chef Elle Simone as she addressed a virtual crowd of students and staff in a recent Zoom “Town Hall” meeting. Elle is best known for her role on America’s Test Kitchen – public television’s most widely watched cooking show, filmed right here in Boston.
In the not so distant past NECAT regularly welcomed well-known chefs and special guests to share their stories of success to students. But, as the pandemic wears on and in-person demos and
graduation ceremonies have been cancelled, we managed to do the next best thing: we brought Elle to our students’ screens.
Elle shared her journey in detail, a personal account which resonates with many NECAT students. Hers was not a direct path to culinary success. It was a winding road that included struggle and hustle, including a first cooking job at an Olive Garden, which ignited a passion that led her to New York City for formal training. Elle encountered economic hardship in New York, forcing her to nearly abandon her culinary dreams.
She recently told the James Beard Foundation’s blog about her experience receiving SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) during this time. “I was wedged in between two worlds,” she says. “One where I was training to be a fine dining chef, and one where I could barely afford to feed myself…if it weren’t for SNAP and the experiences I had because of it, I don’t know how I could have completed my culinary certificate…” Elle’s experience is similar to what so many students served by NECAT face – last year, 55% of enrollees at our Boston training center received SNAP benefits.
Yet, Elle persevered – and the rest of us can be grateful she did. She’s currently Executive Editor and Inclusion Leader at America’s Test Kitchen (ATK) and a food stylist for Cook’s Country. She has appeared on ABC’s The Chew, Bravo’s Chef Roble and Co., The Cooking Channel, Food Network and The Katie Couric Show, and has been featured in leading national media such as the Boston Globe, Forbes and NPR.
At ATK she has created a culture of inclusion that has led to the recruitment, mentoring and retention of many women and minorities. As the founder of SheChef, Inc., a professional networking organization and social enterprise, Elle personally mentors women chefs of color who are pursuing careers in the culinary arts.
NECAT is thrilled to have Elle contribute her experience to the organization. As Executive Director Joey Cuzzi said, “Elle is going to be an invaluable addition to our Board. Commitment, empathy, professionalism—she embodies all that’s good about NECAT.”
And as Elle told us all at the end of our Town Hall, “I’m so happy to be here. I love NECAT – it feels like home. Students, if you want to reach me, I’m on all social media platforms. You can follow me, you can ask me questions… I’m here, I’m accessible.”
A little more about Elle:
- She’s a trained social worker and worked as one for seven years before following her journey to a career in Food Media.
- Some of her favorite restaurants in the Boston area include: Mei Mei, Pammy’s, Shanti Taste of India, The Butcher Shop and MIDA.
- Her biggest culinary influence: currently it’s Chef José Andrés, founder of World Central Kitchen. “I’m inspired by people who care about people.”