A few years ago, local food writer Fanny Slater had won the Rachael Ray’s Great American Cookbook Competition, was in the process of writing and publishing her first collection of recipes, and pitching Food Network an idea for a show she had on millennials.
“It essentially followed my friends and I trying new restaurants, having picnics by the river, doing Sunday funday brunch, or craft-beer tasting,” she explains. “I wanted to profile different chefs, and I wanted it to be nationally based rather than locally. I was trying to pitch something less about me and more about how people in their 30s spend weekends—because the biggest difference with millennials is we spend our money on experiences and not on things.”
Food Network turned down the idea. They liked it but Slater as a host wasn’t technically in their demographic. She wasn’t a celebrity, as they culled on their sister network, Cooking Channel, which features people like Hayley Duff going into a Brooklyn restaurant to learn how to make homemade pickles. And she wasn’t experienced enough as a TV host personality to have her own “stir and dump” cooking show. In fact, she had never been on TV per se, except for a few Rachael Ray shows during the cookbook challenge.
“It’s been a long journey and the biggest learning curve,” Slater reflects. In fact, it hasn’t been until the past six months she says she’s truly matured professionally and personally. In looking back at her original pitch, she wasn’t ready to be on TV. “When the opportunity came up with [local TV station] WWAY, to do a cooking segment, it was the first time I was on camera by myself continuously,” she continues. “It was like JV training—to get me ready for the varsity league.”
Varsity came a calling at the end of last summer. A Food Network producer rang up Slater after having met her on the “Rachael Ray Show” and explained how the network was launching its second season of the 30-minute show, “The Kitchen Sink,” a spinoff from their hour-long show, “The Kitchen.” They wanted to recast the hosts of it and were in search of three people. Slater came in as a viable choice, but she had to impress Food Network executives during an audition.
“Two weeks later I was auditioning in New Jersey with 16 people—all people I had seen on YouTube videos or on shows like ‘Top Chef,’” she says.
“The Kitchen Sink” has a premise that actually builds on the millennial demographic, as it follows social-media based hacks, tricks, trends, and shortcuts to cooking. They showcase fun ways to host brunch for 12, by taking two dozen eggs, two loaves of French bread, a pack of cheese, and a bunt pan to make quick eggs sandwiches for under $10. Or they go meta with making a pizzadilla cake, which is basically a pizza and quesadilla stacked together and served in monstrosity form, perfect for a game-day feast with friends.
“The show is like scrolling your phone and pulling stuff from Buzzfeed’s Tasty or other sites,” Slater explains. Slater and her cohosts—restaurateur/chef Tregaye Fraser, who won season 12 of “Food Network Star” and restaurateur/chef Spike Mendelsohn from season four of “Top Chef”—research ideas alongside producers to showcase with their own flavor profiles. Fraser often does over-the-top Southern comfort food. Slater will present go-to pantry staples, like fresh herbs and citrus, to create tasty eats. “They really want our fanbase to look at us and know what we’re making is connected to us,” she tells.
Every other week Slater is flying to New Jersey to film more footage and do promotional interviews to help market the show. She may fly up on Monday to do rehearsal screenings, then film multiple episodes on Tuesday and Wednesday, do an interview with Rachael Ray on Thursday, then fly back Friday. “We are still in production and have a whole lot more to shoot,” she informs. “There are 13 episodes in a season, so I am learning a lot on the fast track.”
So far the balance between storytelling and cooking has been the hardest blip to overcome, according to Slater. A natural on camera, with a bubbly loquaciousness, she says the network advises her frequently, “OK, jump right into your dish.”
“I would tend to just stand there and tell the story,” she quips. “Cooking and talking simultaneously can be hard. I now can look back on those things and say I can learn from them. Whereas in my 20s I may not have had enough maturity to learn from something like that. I’d say, ‘Oh, I’ll work on that,’ but maybe I wouldn’t do anything about it.”
Slater spent her 20s finishing college at Peace in Raleigh, NC, then an all-female university. She knew she wanted to do something in the entertainment field and was leaning toward acting. Actually, during a break from college, she would drive back and forth to Wilmington to audition for “One Tree Hill.” “Nothing ever panned out with it,” she tells. But it didn’t stop her from continuing to follow her passions. During college Slater auditioned for improv gigs at Peace, held from a group in Raleigh called “The Village Idiots.” They honed stage talent for comedians and Slater was a natural fit, so much so, even after she graduated she would audition for them at Peace.
“When I was a little kid, I always performed for my family,” she remembers. “I would put on a bunch of outfits and come downstairs to my parents and sister, and stand on the fireplace and put on a little show. My parents were like, ‘She’s either crazy or she’s going to be on television.’ I was this funny little kid, and they laughed at everything I did. And that made me feel so good as a kid to make people laugh. And in school, if we had to stand up and do a project, I was the first person to raise my hand—whereas everyone else shied away. That was a natural enjoyment of me being in front of people and seeing their reactions.”
Yet, Slater admits to not being the best student in school. Though she loved the social aspect of it, being in academically advanced classes challenged her. It wasn’t until she began writing she realized English would become her major.
“I had a teacher in high school at Raven’s Croft who once told me after an assignment to ‘use your imagination; there is no wrong answer.’ I was like, ‘Finally!’” Slater explains. “Right away, I took every creative writing and grammar class I could.”
She convinced her advisor to allow her to intern at her favorite restaurant, Margaux’s, in Raleigh, during her final semester at Peace and write a senior project on it. “I really loved food and writing, and wanted to combine the two,” she says.
In college Slater lived with her parents for a while and would frequently watch Food Network while exercising on the treadmill. She grew fond of the back-to-back episodes of Rachael’s Ray’s “30-Minute Meals” that would air at 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. “It almost became an obsession,” she says. “And I always loved cooking with my dad. Even though Dad says when I was little I wanted to be in the kitchen, I never said, ‘I’m going to be a chef!’ I knew I didn’t want to go to culinary school; I wanted to do it my way. That’s why I looked up to Rachael. She was very clear: ‘I’m not a chef; I’m just here to cook.’”
After graduation Slater made a bold move to Hollywood to build an acting résumé. While she loved the City of Angels, she only stayed almost two years before moving to Wilmington—a place she and her family visited on vacation but never really explored beyond the beach. Once she put her feet on the sidewalk of downtown Wilmington, craft beer and snacks in hand, she decided she didn’t want to leave.
“Now, five years later, I’ve lived in multiple places in town, but my only requirement is they must be within walking distance to the Goat and Compass,” Slater says. She has held numerous events at the Brooklyn Arts District neighborhood bar, including a book signing for the release of her cookbook, “Orange, Lavendar and Figs,” last summer, as well as her debut on “The Kitchen Sink” in January. She also did a book signing in Raleigh at Margaux’s and reconnected with people from middle school and friends’ parents. “People from all pieces of my life showed up,” she says of the 15 stops on the East Coast book tour.
Though cookbook number two is currently not even being considered, the end goal for Slater is always in her mind’s eye: having her own “dump and stir” cooking show. Preferably one set in her hometown, even.
“I’m lucky not to have been handed a solo opportunity because I’ve learned so much from my cohosts, and it takes the pressure off from having all the attention just being focused on me,” she says. “So I am not carrying all the weight of a new show. It’s Food Network, but I am starting at a junior level, which will hopefully lead to new opportunities. The end goal is to have my own show. I love Wilmington and want to settle here. That’s the ultimate—doing it in my way. But now I feel really stable—really content. I’m not reaching for anything else currently; I am just full of gratitude.”