Chef Brooke Baevsky grew up in Longmeadow, developing a love for cooking and a passion for healthy eating in a household with multiple allergies.
Baevsky’s mother eats gluten-free and dairy-free, her brother has a peanut allergy and she is allergic to soy. Instead of getting stuck on what they couldn’t eat, she got excited about getting creative to make food that everyone can enjoy.
So while macaroni and cheese is a dish she and her family couldn’t eat together, Baevsky could switch the ingredients to make an even more healthy version that is accessible to all.
“No matter what your dietary need is or your dietary restrictions or your religious preference or Kosher, I can tweak and create innovative and healthy recipes that are delicious that anyone can eat,” she said. “So that’s really my mantra with food. Food for all.”
Her Western Massachusetts roots also taught her the privilege of always having food on your table.
According to Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, the food insecurity rate in Hampden County is 14.3% with a child food insecurity rate of 24.3%. Food insecurity in her local communities inspired her to make meals accessible.
In middle school, Baevsky sold baked goods outside of the grocery store and used the money to create cooking classes for low-income children to learn how to afford healthy, nutritious meals on a very limited budget.
“You can really see how a ton of communities adjacent to Longmeadow, Massachusetts live and how many families go food insecure — they don’t know when their next meal is coming,” she said. “The idea of being able to teach and share this idea of living a healthy lifestyle and the importance of eating a healthy diet is what inspired me to continue and make my entire career as a chef.”
After graduating from Longmeadow High School, she went on to Syracuse University where she studied product development in the global marketplace and retail with a minor in food studies.
She accepted a job with Macy’s after graduation, working in private label product development. She found her passion, however, when videos of food started to explode on social media and more companies started creating meal kits and meal delivery services to send home to customers.
“While I was so interested in food and product development, I didn’t want to go to the traditional culinary school route and have a restaurant. I really loved always making something new and really being creative with food. And this new budding industry that was just beginning really sparked my interest,” she said.
Baevsky even worked with Scott Loitsch at Buzzfeed on some recipe videos.
Now, she works with the prepared meal delivery company Freshly as a manager of product development, meaning she creates the meals that eventually get sent to homes.
Now, Baevsky with the prepared meal delivery company Freshly as a manager of product development, meaning she creates the meals that eventually get sent to homes.
“I’ve been so fortunate to work with some of the most incredible people in this industry that have come from restaurants and companies like Campbell’s and Wendy’s and working with suppliers that supply food for Starbucks and Panera Bread and Trader Joe’s,” Baevsky said, adding that she’s partnered on special projects with Food Network stars in the past.
While working at Freshly, she returned to school at the Institute of Culinary Education and focused on health-supportive culinary arts, where she learned more about how to create healthy foods that taste delicious. With these skills, she now also cooks as a private chef.
These experiences made her a great contender for “Chopped.” She said she worked very hard to establish herself in the culinary TV world, networking and going through several rounds of interviews, to get on the show.
“You need to have the right personality, the right skill set, you need to know how to food style, you need to know how to cook in front of an audience and be an extrovert and present yourself in a certain way,” she said.
On the show, time is not staged. It’s necessary to have strong knowledge of ingredients and be very creative to cook on the show. Before the competition starts, chefs do walk around the kitchen to learn where to find different items though, Baevsky said.
“Having experience and deep knowledge of different ingredients and preparation methods was something that they really wanted to ensure that we knew how to do. That was a huge part of the vetting process,” she said.
The day of shooting for the cooking competition was 16 hours long. After she finished 13 hours of cooking, Baevsky had a three-hour interview narrating the episode and describing her feelings.
“It’s really fun being on set,” she said. “I got to meet so many other chefs and the judges and everyone was so nice.”
The episode, called “Cooking for Love,” had some twists in theme for Valentine’s Day.
The “Chopped” competition has three rounds where contestants are asked to make an appetizer, entree and dessert with surprise items each time. For Valentine’s Day, the basket takes the meal “up a notch.”
“An aquatic aphrodisiac is a fun find in the appetizer basket, and steak in the entree basket takes the date up a notch. Finally, the last two pairs work passionately to create passionfruit and matcha desserts that earn them the $10,000 prize,” the Food Network said.
Ted Allen hosted the episode that was judged by Chefs Maneet Chauhan, Scott Conant and Marc Murphy.
Baevsky teamed up with another single chef for the competition, who she met only minutes before they began cooking as a sort of blind date.
“Not only was it the pressure of, ‘I have no idea what these ingredients are in my basket,’ but also I have no idea who I’m even cooking with,” she said. “So instead of saying ‘Oh, Hi, what’s your name? Where you from?’ I was like ‘Okay, can you make a béchamel? Can you chop?’”
But after they got started, Baevsky said she worked great together with her partner. The challenges were a bit harder because there were two chefs working together, but her partner agreed with Baevsky’s visions and they were able to divide and conquer.
Though they don’t know who the judges are until the competition, part of her strategy was using her knowledge about what she knew judges enjoy and don’t like eating to tailor the meals to their preferences.
“At the end of the day it’s a show and it’s a competition. So there’s going to be some crazy things that are thrown at you and you just need to know how to have fun with it and do your best and make something great out of crazy ingredients you normally would never see or use.”
Baevsky will soon move to Los Angeles to take advantage of extensive private chef opportunities and to grow her network in food entertainment.
“Being in the food TV world is super exciting to me. Really it’s like performing. It’s presenting in front of millions of people and sharing what you love to do,” she said. “It makes me smile ear to ear doing it.”
The episode will premiere on Tuesday, Feb. 8 at 9 p.m.