Nancy Manlove stepped out of a stainless steel kitchen with a knife and a smile.
She’s chef de cuisine at eculent, a restaurant spelled with a small e, at 709 Harris Ave. in Kemah, who is also vying to become the next “Food Network Star.”
Manlove, who lives in Texas City, is a competitor on season 13 of the television show which begins June 4. Contestants promote their ideas for a cooking show on the cable network. The one who wins has a chance of getting a show produced and aired.
Manlove’s idea for a show is “In Nana’s Kitchen.” So many young people rely on fast food, drive-through windows and frozen meals, that she wants to teach them some basic skills, such as listening to your grandmother.
“Few of them get a chance to get in the kitchen with their parents and grandparents,” Manlove said.
Manlove, 65, has eight grandchildren and a new career as a chef.
The day of this interview was the fifth anniversary of Manlove’s first day at a culinary internship at Moody Gardens, she said.
“I came out of corporate America,” Manlove said, as she scored oversized Roma tomatoes. “Process control is important.”
She worked for several utility companies in different positions, including customer service. She retired from Houston-based United Space Alliance when she was 59. Then she went back to school to study culinary arts.
Manlove applied for a spot on the show “Restaurant Startup” with a proposal to open a charcuterie shop in Galveston County. Charcuterie is a high-end store or restaurant that sells handmade meat products such as sausage and pate.
Her initial audition and interviews went well, but the show had recently featured another charcuterie concept, so Manlove wouldn’t be on the show. Someone did contact her later, though, and asked whether she wanted to be on “Cutthroat Kitchen.” She grabbed the opportunity, she said.
She was on the show twice, once in 2015 and once in 2016.
Manlove auditioned for another cooking show, but it was a cattle call in San Antonio, Manlove said. She figured that was probably the end of her TV career because she didn’t intend to go through another experience like that, she said.
Then one day, she was in an antique store in Texas City when she got a text message from someone in New York asking whether she wanted to be on “Food Network Star.”
“It’s a joke,” she said. “I thought it was a gimmick.”
She responded anyway and learned a producer followed her on Twitter and liked her style.
Manlove spent two months in Los Angeles taping the “Food Network Star.” She enjoyed the experience, but is not allowed to talk about show details.
“If you’ve ever been sequestered in a jury, that’s what it was like,” Manlove said. “No phones, no TVs and you had to have an escort wherever you went.”
She’s busy at the Kemah restaurant working with David Skinner, owner and executive chef of eculent. The restaurant is adding 10 new courses to its menu in June.
“We are continuing to evolve,” Skinner said.
The two chefs are also working on the James Beard Foundation’s Blended Burger Project. The challenge is to use cultivated mushrooms and beef to make an award-winning burger. It goes on the menu Memorial Day weekend, he said.
Manlove offered some cooking advice: salt your food. Don’t over season it, but taste it and then make adjustments.
She also learned a trick at Moody Gardens. To slice hard boiled eggs, just push them through the wires of a baker’s rack, she said.
But she encourages home cooks to experiment and take chances.
“Just like Julia Child, be fearless,” Manlove said. “Get in the kitchen and cook. Even if you make a mistake, you will learn from it.”