Emily Ellyn Dishes on the Retro Rad Movement

EE Frigo Cheese 1Chef Emily Ellyn will open general session at Cook. Craft. Create. ACF National Convention & Show in Orlando, July 9-13, to verbally cook through her culinary journey and share the events that inspired her passion for food. A farm-raised chef and culinary educator, Chef Ellyn started the Retro Rad cooking movement to inspire a new generation of chefs with classics from the past. 

Chef Ellyn is a Culinary Institute of America alum armed with two master’s degrees and is finishing up her Ph.D in Food Service Education. Chef Ellyn has appeared on Food Network shows and even has a cameo on the Simpsons!

Chef Ellyn talks with We Are Chefs on her unique style, food philosophy, online branding for chefs and shares a Retro Rad recipe.

What is the Retro Rad movement about and why is it important to you?

Ohhhh! Retro Rad started 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 would also BEG my mom to draw cat-eyes on me with eyeliner!

At about 10, knowing how excited I was by retro style, my mom bought us both a matching pair of saddle shoes and took me to a REAL 1950’s diner. It was sooooo retro rad, and I fell in love! I had a strawberry shake, cheeseburger and fried pickles. I was also allowed to feed the jukebox with quarters.

The whole era just resonated with me. I loved how seemingly perfect life was and how effortless homemaking seemed — just like on “Leave it to Beaver.”

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When I fell in love with cooking at about the same time, it was just natural to dig into my grandmother’s recipe boxes and see if I could recreate an old family favorite, or make it better and make it RAD! Now I encourage everyone to do the same: Dust off their pressure cookers and crockpots and embrace the old in a new, rad way. I hope to give EVERYONE I encounter a glimpse into that safe, perfect place in the past where they can create, cook, escape or just be themselves!

What is your food philosophy?

My primary motivation to cook is to feed people through their hearts, minds and stomachs. Whether on TV or at a culinary event, I want to teach people to cook and get them excited about cooking. But more than that, I want to touch and improve the lives of as many people as I can in this lifetime. I believe that television can be a great platform for this.

Most of all, I want people to feel comfortable and to have fun cooking. Cooking should not be intimidating. We all have to eat three meals a day, so why not do it in a way that makes us happy and keeps us healthy?

My favorite thing to remind people is to EAT and TASTE. You can’t cook if you do not know how things taste! My dad always said, “Cook what tastes good!” He would start cooking, taste, add a little of this and then a little of that, taste and repeat until it satisfied his taste buds.

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Did growing up on a farm have an impact on your career as a chef?

Growing up on a farm influenced my love of cooking and desire to be a chef immensely! My family grew and raised nearly everything we ate. We cooked daily and everyone gathered around the dinner table to celebrate the food we grew and harvested. As a result, I know where things come from and fundamentally understand how things are made. I lived and breathed the process from seed to table!

On the farm as a toddler, it was my job was to stomp the soil around 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. With a good understanding of basic, raw ingredients, I’m confident in doing new and interesting things when I work on remixing a classic or an old family recipe.

Another important part of growing up on a farm is learning to work hard. You just do it from a very young age and you don’t question it because everyone you know is working just as hard or harder right beside you. From this you learn a sense of community and hospitality. You raise your food from a small plot of land and then you cook it up and preserve the extra yield to sustain you through the winter. It’s like the old tale of the ant versus the grasshopper. Adopting a hardworking mindset means you are always stocked with delicious food and prepared to feed your family and community at a moment’s notice.

Website skyscraper ACF Cook. Craft. Create.What advice can you give to chefs who are just out of culinary school?

First I would ask, are you ready to work hard? Work long hours with little money? Are you ready to work in extreme conditions where you are burned, cut and yelled at while working to create amazing food?

If so, you’ll experience instant gratification, more so than possibly any other job. Through it all you’ll experience the closest friendships ever bound by a love of the craft, sweat and tears!

You pursued a culinary degree, but I suggest you try it out first before committing a lifetime to it.  Also, take the opportunity early in your career to explore the many avenues offered in the field.  Work in the areas of business you are interested in and those you would not think to pursue. You never know, you may become a corporate chef or restaurant owner; a food photographer or food critic; or maybe even a line cook on a cruise ship or an educator!

How should chefs leverage social media to promote their own brands?

ACF members understand the strength in community and social media is no exception. Chefs should not only be using social as a way to stay informed in the industry, but also as a way to promote their brand and grow their business. Nothing replaces personal relationships and word-of-mouth referrals, but you need to at least understand how it all works and ensure you are represented well. It’s very likely that social media will influence your next opportunity and you want it to be in the right direction.EE Baking 2

 You’re working on your first cookbook. What has the experience been like and can you tell us a bit about the book?

Cooking up a book is a difficult process. My personal challenge has been letting life (and work) keep me from tackling the task, so it’s been a slow process.

The first book, “TV Tray Chic,” will be a collection of remixed oldie-but-goodie recipes displayed in a fun, 1950s Americana collection. There will also be kitschy photographs and stories from the bygone era with practical tips and tricks to keep you looking fabulous when you hostess.

What are some fun spots in Orlando for Cook. Craft. Create. attendees to check out?

Orlando has some gems getting recognized by more than just the locals. I love The Rusty Spoon for having great food and an amazing female Chef/Owner, Kathleen Blake. She is elevating the food scene by bringing us farm-to-table food with finesse. Try the delightful pickled watermelon salad with charred octopus.

There’s also James and Julie Petrakis of The Ravenous Pig, a husband-and-wife dynamo team that continues to rake in the James Beard nominations. Grab a bite at their Winter Park location or at Cask and Larder at the airport. They also cooked up a delicious culinary collaboration with DoveCote Brasserie in downtown.

For brunch, check out Kevin Fonzo’s K Restaurant in College Park. For drinks and juicy burgers, there’s RusTeak in College Park. Pay a visit to Audubon Park to sip and sup your way through East End Market or visit the many small eateries in Mills 50. I really like the barbacoa at Pig Floyds right now.

For Orlando’s home-brewed libations, be sure to check out The Bear & Peacock Brewery. You can toast the end of any experience with a glass of wine from Quantum Leap Winery.

Do you have a Retro Rad recipe you’d like to share with ACF chefs?

Of course!

Candied Fennel Upside-Down Cake with Citrus Chocolate Pudding Garnished with Toasted Fennel Sesame Brittle and Orange AshOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Chef Emily Ellyn, emilyellyn.com

This orange scented upside-down cake topped with candied fennel and bathed in a golden citrus syrup is accompanied by a dollop of rich chocolate pudding, topped with toasted fennel sesame seed brittle and garnished with burnt orange ash. Prepare your taste buds for a decadent journey of nostalgic delight that will tug on apron strings and heartstrings. 

Serves:  10                  

Yield:  (1) 9-inch round cake

Candied fennel ingredients:

1 small fennel bulb, sliced into 1/4 -inch thick pieces or shredded fine (Finer cut yields easier slicing when serving)

1 cup white sugar

2 oranges, zested and juiced

2 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon ground fennel seeds

 Cake ingredients:

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground annatto seed

½ teaspoon sea salt

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

¾ cup white granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure orange extract

¾ cup well-shaken buttermilk

 Pudding ingredients:

2 cups whole milk

1 cup white granulated sugar

¼ teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 cup dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa)

2 large eggs

2 large egg yolks

½ teaspoon pure orange extract (or zest of 1 orange)

½ teaspoon ground chili pepper (optional)

 Brittle ingredients:

1 cup white granulated sugar

¼ cup water

1 teaspoon sea salt

½ cup sesame seeds, toasted

½ cup whole fennel seeds, toasted

*Optional substitutes of seeds:

candied fennel seed

crystalized fennel

candied orange, minced

candied plum, minced

candied ginger, minced

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg


2 each oranges for Orange Ash, see recipes below (optional)

Fresh Origins’ Crystalized Fennel Flower (optional)


Prepare cake pan. Lightly oil a 9-by 2-inch round cake pan and line bottom with a large round of parchment paper and line side with a 2-inch-wide strip around inside of pan to cover pleats, then lightly oil.

 Make candied fennel:

In a medium sized saucepot add all candied fennel ingredients and cook until fennel is tender and translucent and the liquid is syrupy, about 40 minutes. If you have more than 1/3 cup syrup, boil to reduce; if less, add water. Lift fennel slices out with a fork and arrange decoratively in bottom of cake pan. Cool syrup slightly, then pour over fennel through a fine-mesh sieve.

Make cake:

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

In medium-sized bowl sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, ground annatto seed and salt.

Cream together orange extract, butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. At low speed, mix in flour mixture in three batches, alternating with buttermilk, and mixing until just combined. Gently spoon batter over topping and distribute evenly.

Bake until cake is golden-brown and a wooden pick inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 25 to 35 minutes. Cool cake in pan 15 minutes, then invert onto a plate and continue to cool.

For Pudding:

Add 1 ½ cups of the milk, sugar, salt and the chocolate broken into pieces in a medium nonreactive saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, whisk the remaining 1/2 cup of milk, cornstarch, eggs and egg yolks in a bowl. Gradually whisk the hot milk into egg mixture. Return to the saucepan and cook over medium-high heat whisking constantly, until the pudding comes to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and continue whisking until thick, about 2 or 3 minutes more. Remove from heat and whisk in orange extract and chili powder, reserve to side for service.

For Brittle:

Line sheet tray with parchment paper and spray with cooking oil.

Stir together sugar, ½ cup water and salt in a medium saucepan. Cook over high heat, without stirring, until sugar begins to melt and turn golden, about 3 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar has melted and mixture turns golden amber, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a glass or metal bowl, mix the seeds, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Remove pan from heat. Stir in seed mixture. Working quickly, mix until incorporated and quickly pour over parchment paper and use an offset spatula to spread to a ¼-inch thickness.  

Let cool and break into pieces, reserve for service.

For Orange Ash:

Roast two juiced oranges for six hours until they turn into a charcoal mass. Pulse in food processor until pulverized to dust.

Serve a large piece of Candied Fennel Upside Down Cake on a dollop of Chocolate Pudding and garnishing with fennel sesame brittle, orange ash and crystalized fennel flower. 

Want to meet high-energy chefs like Emily Ellyn and learn the latest in culinary trends and techniques while networking with hundreds of professional chefs and industry experts? Register for ACF’s National Convention, July 9-13 in Orlando! Get the inspiration and information you need to do your job better in 2017. Get more information here.

Cook. Craft. Create. ACF National Convention and Show, Orlando, July 9-13

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