While leading cooking classes at the students always told 31-year-old Jyll Everman she should have her own cooking show.
The blond, bubbly, slightly goofy chef from Wisconsin never understood why. She never spoke on camera, and after much prodding from her mom and husband, she finally auditioned for her favorite show, "The Next Food Network Star."
It was an audition she thought she bombed.
“I just never thought anyone really cared about watching me,” said Everman.
But weeks later she moved from her current home in Glendora into an L.A. mansion with 15 finalists, all vying for a coveted role as the network’s next Rachael Ray or Guy Fieri.
Like Ray, Everman has taken an alternative route to her current culinary career. Instead of landing herself thousands of dollars in debt by going to an expensive culinary school, Everman opted to go to a small night school culinary program Epicurean School of Culinary Arts. She then interned at a number of restaurants, including Parkway Grille in Pasadena, before landing positions as a dining room manager and line worker at high-end restaurants.
Aside from her cooking classes at the Village Kitchen Shoppe, Everman also owns her own catering company Jyllicious Bites, specializing in gourmet finger foods with a little hint of a Midwestern, comfort food sensibility. Her specialty? Miniature chicken pot pies she says are an instant hit with her clientele.
“There’s a huge market for finger foods and appetizers, definitely,” said Everman.
Everman admits she may not have been the most complex chef on the show, but she discovered early on her natural endearing personality in the kitchen translated well on camera. While there are no spoilers here, Everman said she used her charisma to her advantage.
“I remember in the first episode and being blown away by all the complex, beautiful dishes that so many of the other contestants made,” said Everman. “But come to find out, they couldn’t talk.” In one challenge where contestants had to describe their dishes on camera, Everman emerged above all the other contestants.
“You have to be able to engage your audience, you have to be relatable,” said Everman. “If you can’t, you shouldn’t be in this business.”
For those who quip that the hosts on Food Network are more personality rather substance – as in Anthony Bourdain versus Rachael Ray -- Everman defends Food Network’s lineup of culinary personalities.
“The folks at Food Network know what they’re doing. They get thousands of demos, and they’re incredibly selective. There’s no one there that doesn’t know what they’re doing,” said Everman. “People like to knock on Rachael Ray and say she’s not a real chef. But the girl can cook and she can relate to everyday people.”
The pressure of a competition reality show hit Everman the first episode where her willingness to be a team player actually nearly caused her an early exit from the show, landing her in the bottom two. The usually non-confrontational Everman got into a dramatic showdown with another contestant.
Aside from dealing with the cutthroat environment, Everman also butted heads with chef judge Bobby Flay.
“I’m not too sure he really understood where I was coming from,” said Everman. “He’s really into Tex-Mex spice. I’m from Wisconsin. I like creamy and cheesy. He didn’t always get that.”
With the experience now behind her (the last episode airs in August), Everman said she definitely sees a future in television.
If she were to host her own show, she sees herself answering viewer questions about entertaining, while preparing bite-sized appetizer dishes.
“Working on camera came very naturally for me and I do think I’ve developed a brand that’s truly marketable,” said Everman. “I definitely think there’s a place for me in this business.”
Season 7 of "Food Network Star" airs Sundays on The Food Network