Our Story (2017)
November 21, 2017
Here we are! The family that we love and adore (and worked really hard for) all started thanks to a budding romance freshman year at BYU where we met. Embracing our first real taste of freedom as college freshmen, we dated through the fall and winter until Robby broke up up with me on a Valentine’s Day gone wrong (a critical mistake that I still like to remind him of). I moved on (and he came crawling back) but eventually he headed off to serve a two year mission for our church and I began pursuing a degree in Broadcast Journalism.
After a year in the Broadcast program I knew that I felt passionately about working in television but was far more drawn to lifestyle television rather than news. In a proactive move to attempt to “make my own luck,” I applied for an internship at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia in the television department hoping to get the opportunity to assist on a cooking show. My outreach paid off and I was lucky enough to land the internship which took me to New York City for the summer. I worked as a production assistant intern on Everyday Food which was airing on PBS at the time and quickly fell in love with all things related to food television (just as I had suspected I would). I extended my stay in New York City as long as possible before returning for fall semester with a clear focus for my career path – I was going to work in food tv. Whether it was in front of the camera or behind the camera, I was committed to figuring out how to create a career that was rooted in something I was so passionate about.
With a whole lot of ambition and a tiny bit of experience, I approached a professor in the broadcast department about creating and hosting a college cooking show on the network affiliated with the university. To my surprise and delight he thought it was a great idea, but I would have to do all of the leg work to bring it to life. This meant writing a pilot season of 6 episodes, figuring out how to produce and direct them, and submitting them to him to see if he felt it was something the department could support. So I went to a local cooking store and asked if I could shoot a few episodes in a kitchen located in their showroom and bribed friends with food to help me pull it off. I called the show Kelsey’s Kitchen and the mission was to make fast, fun, and affordable meals that college students could pull off. From ramen recipes to game day favorites I gave it my best shot and ultimately convinced my professor to throw some university support behind the idea. The show grew eventually to 100 episodes and while I’m incredibly proud of pulling it off, I’m also terribly embarrassed by how little I knew! There’s an epic blooper reel from these years of Kelsey’s Kitchen that involve sets falling apart mid filming, washing dishes in bathroom sinks (because there was no running water on the set), and forgetting about food in the oven that didn’t actually work. Regardless of the production quality, it was an unbelievable experience that really put me in a position to kick off a career in my dream industry.
I returned for a second summer to New York City where I pursued a second internship with Martha Stewart Living working on the premier season of her daytime show and spent the second half of my summer working as a production assistant on Food Network’s Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee. After returning to BYU and wrapping up my bachelors degree in Broadcast Journalism, I headed straight to culinary school in Los Angeles. There I worked as a private chef and nanny for a family while attending culinary school in the early mornings. I also picked up where I had left off years ago with Robby and we began dating long distance. Distance indeed made the heart grow fonder and I fell in love with that boy who once broke my heart on Valentine’s Day.
Just as I was wrapping up my training in culinary school I auditioned for Food Network Star on a whim. I showed up with a press kit and a dvd of episodes from Kelsey’s Kitchen. I got a call back and eventually a ticket to NYC where I auditioned in person in front of top Food Network executives and casting directors. The experience was exhilarating and terrifying all at once! I’ll never forget receiving a phone call from a producer the day before Christmas Eve sharing the wonderful news that I had been cast on season 4 of the show. I had a few weeks before I needed to be in New York – just enough time to attend my culinary school graduation and become engaged to Robby. I headed off to New York completely oblivious to what I was walking in to but with big dreams and unwavering passion.
I filmed the show for 6 weeks away from friends and family with no contact with the “outside world.” I made wonderful friendships, cried on camera, humiliated myself, and also surprised myself. I finished a respectable fourth place and even nabbed the honor of being the fan favorite. Being on the show was a million dollar experience that I wouldn’t pay a penny to do again. It was an unbelievable springboard for my career and opened many doors in an industry that is notoriously difficult to break into. One of those doors led me to Bobby Flay and his production company.
After returning home from Food Network Star, getting married, and moving to NYC as a newlywed with Robby, I was more ambitious than ever with big dreams to share my passion for food in front of the camera. Thanks to those professional relationships that I made on the show, and being in the right place and the right time, I pitched a show for a new network called Cooking Channel. It would be a sister network to Food Network and part of the infamous Scripps family. Bobby Flay had expressed interest in producing the show and before I knew it dreams were coming true left and right and Kelsey’s Essentials was born. It was one of the first pieces of original programming on Cooking Channel and ran for six successful seasons – even leading to a Daytime Emmy Nomination in the Culinary Host category.
With growing careers in the big city we decided to try growing our family as well. I became pregnant with Ollie in 2012 and everything seemed right in the world. After a fairly textbook pregnancy I unexpectedly experienced complications at the end of my second trimester and was forced to deliver Ollie at 28 weeks due to a condition called HELLP Syndrome. He spent over 2 months in the NICU with typical ups and downs, but overall growing until he was healthy enough to come home. I’ll never forget the day we brought Ollie home to our Brooklyn apartment – we had conquered the NICU and were finally able to love and care for him at home. Ollie was the light of our lives and the perfect buddy for city adventures as a family.
Eventually we were anxious to grow our family once again. After carefully assessing my health and the likelihood of a healthy pregnancy we became pregnant once again with another little boy. Despite consulting with doctors and getting the go ahead to pursue pregnancy, I once again found myself in a situation where I would be having a very premature baby. This time at 25 weeks. Our Leo was born weighing only 15 ounces yet miraculously surviving his birth. He put up a very brave fight for nearly a month before passing away due to complications from his prematurity. We were devastated. We Leo’s loss were also advised against pursuing future pregnancies – which broke us in so many ways.
As we began the process of grieving our son and the future children we expected to have, we were approached by my angelic sister-in-law who offered to carry a baby for our family. My doctor had actually suggested gestational surrogacy as a possible path for us to grow our family and we couldn’t have been more grateful for her offer. Once she was deemed a good candidate for this by her doctor we began the process of IVF across the country from one another. We would create embryos with my eggs and Robby’s sperm in NYC then ship them to Idaho where Betsy lived. Working with her doctor she was preparing her body so that we could transfer our healthy embryo(s) to her. Like many do, we felt the ups and downs of IVF. After 2 egg retrievals for me to get viable embryos, a failed IVF transfer with her, and months of cancelled cycles due to poor response we finally had success and were pregnant. Betsy heroically carried our beautiful baby girl until she was born just before Thanksgiving in 2016. Nora was a miraculous gift after so much heartache and loss. We couldn’t have been more grateful to welcome her to our family.
After Leo’s loss and the anticipated arrival of Nora we found ourselves seeking a fresh start and a simpler life. New York City had been so good to us, but we were exhausted mentally, emotionally, and even a bit professionally. After an exciting work opportunity for Robby in Portland, OR unexpectedly came up we decided to take our chance and move across the country and begin a new chapter. We arrived just before Nora was born and moved into our first home where we envisioned creating family memories for years to come.
We are loving life in the Pacific Northwest and have found so much healing here – especially around our dinner table. Food has always been a passion of mine, but my relationship with food changed after our loss. It’s almost as if I fell out of love with food and went into an autopilot mode of surviving from one day to the next. Trying to keep up a profession in the public eye and grieve privately was difficult and caused me to resent the very subject I had once loved so much. It took time and refocusing on that passion to get myself and my family back in the kitchen cooking and breaking bread together. We began an effort “cook better to feel better” and it has been transformative, especially for me.
Food is so much more than breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s an opportunity to gather those that you love most around your table. To nourish and be nourished and break bread with one another.