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I’m used to being in front of the camera. For 13 years, I was a sports reporter covering the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Baltimore Ravens. But, during that time, I was also getting phone calls from friends and family to cook for private events. I ended up falling in love with going into people’s houses and meeting the mom and just feeding people and watching them eat. I realized, “This is what I want to do.” And being on a couple national cooking television shows helped me get on my way.

The transition wasn’t very difficult because I was so sick of sports and ready for a change. I just wasn’t enjoying myself anymore. The Red Sox won the World Series in 2013 and I’m standing on the field with David Ortiz, and I was thinking, “I want to go home.” I had just had enough. It wasn’t exciting anymore. I wasn’t making a lot of money. I just really wanted something different.

I don’t get as nervous when I go into somebody’s house and cook because I’ve had to cook for Anthony Bourdain on ABC.

It had nothing to do with being a female in a man’s industry, or any of that. I had awesome relationships with all the players. I do miss that for sure, but I told myself, “If you don’t want to go to Fenway Park and if you don’t want to sit down and talk to Dustin Pedroia, it’s time to move on.” Every memory I had was amazing. And things were different when I was younger covering the Yankees. I couldn’t wait to get to work to see Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter and A-Rod, and, of course, watch the game. It was so exciting. That feeling, it was gone. It was time.

It was also the time when ABC’s The Taste came to town for open auditions. I was a sports reporter, but I said, “You know what? I’m just going to go audition.” Everyone in line had on chefs coats and I had on a blue dress and heels. I thought there was no way they’d ever pick me.

Jen Royle interviewing someone
Jen Royle

I made chicken pot pie cupcakes. One of the staffers came up to me to try my cupcake and he used the fork to open it, and I slapped his hand down. I was like, “No fork! No fork in a cupcake! Do you eat a cupcake with a fork?” He wrote my name down and kept walking and I thought that either got me on or got me eliminated right there. But then I was chosen to move forward.

When we finally started filming, I remember walking on stage and seeing Anthony Bourdain,  Marcus Samuelsson, Ludo Lefebvre and Nigella Lawson. I made clam chowder, like a typical Bostonian. Anthony Bourdain told me it was one of the best chowders he’d ever had. I was like, “What? !” I forgot I was even on TV. Ludo and Nigella ended up picking me for their team, and I eventually picked Ludo.

The show was very hard. It was very stressful. It was very serious. It was not fun. I got up at 3 o’clock in the morning, got in a van, and then sat in a room all day. I had no phone, no computer, nothing. I was in hair and makeup at 6, and cooking at 7 with ABC lawyers watching every move.

In the first two episodes, I finished last. I couldn’t finish on time. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was making a mess. I went into sudden death twice and came out the winner both times. Then it was smooth sailing. I lost in the finale, but it was super fun. In my mind, I had already won after episode 3.

I’ll never forget when I got voted off. We were in front of an audience and Ludo looked at me and he said, “Look around. These are all professional chefs. You’re at the end, and you cover baseball. I’m so proud of you.”

Jen Royle
Jen Royle

Compare that to when I was on Beat Bobby Flay a few months ago, I was so calm. My friends were like, “Who are you?” I was like, “I’m just better. I’m a better chef. I’m better with time management. I’ve been through so much.”

I don’t think going on a TV show makes you a better chef, but, if anything, it can help you out in terms of your nerves. I don’t get as nervous when I go into somebody’s house and cook because I’ve literally had to cook for Anthony Bourdain on ABC. They’re good experiences, but I try not to take them so seriously. I do want to do one more show, but I know I don’t want to do Chopped, which seems to be the one people want me to tackle next. If you go on Chopped, they’re going to give you a steak and a bag of Skittles. That has “first round elimination” written all over it for me. 

At this point, I’m doing the real thing every day. After The Taste, I went to the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and ended up working at Mario Batali’s Babbo Enoteca in Boston. Then, I decided to open Dare To Taste, where I work as a private chef.

I double my business almost every year. The first year I was in business, it was a half of a year, and the business took in $60,000. The next year, I did about $150,000, then $200,000 the following year, and, this year, I’ll do even more. It just keeps growing and I keep adding new staff, clients and menu items. It’s ben a fun journey.

I’ve been trying to open a brick-and-mortar space for a year now, a private event space so I don’t always have to go to someone else. Someone who doesn’t have a big enough kitchen or dining room can come to me and have their dinner or bridal shower, and I’ll also open it up for cooking lessons. I’m trying to open up this private cooking mecca, hopefully by the spring.

Jen Royle interviewing someone at a sports game
Jen Royle

It’s just so gratifying to cook for people and to walk away from somebody’s house and have them say, “You made my daughter’s day,” or, “Thank you for taking the stress off of me.” I love when mothers say to me, “What can I do to help?” And I say to them, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but stay out of the kitchen. This is not your day to work.”

I still hold on to some skills from my past life, though. I ask a ton of questions. I’m such a people person. If I can walk into a visiting locker room where literally 25 baseball players are staring at me like, “Who the hell is this girl?” and I can walk up to a star player and say, “I need you for five minutes,” I can walk into somebody’s house and make them chicken marsala. I’ve always said this about myself: I’m fearless. Totally fearless. And I’m always looking for a new challenge. I constantly wonder what’s next.

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Jen Royle is a 13-year professional sports reporter turned professional chef, winning a New York sports Emmy in 2008 during her time covering the New York Yankees. She switched careers after cooking into the finale of ABC's prime time cooking series, "The Taste," where she surpassed 19 other chefs to finish fifth of 24. She is now the chef and owner of Dare To Taste, LLC, a private chef company in Boston. She recently appeared on The Food Network's "Beat Bobby Flay" in Season 10's "Better Late Than Never" episode.
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