Detroit native chef Elle Simone Scott is one of the scintillating on-air talents and food stylists on America’s Test Kitchen. Her rich roots and passion for culinary arts were inspired by cooking with her grandmother at a very young age; years later, she’d moonlight in the hospitality industry after earning credentials from Eastern Michigan University to be a social worker.
“I always worked at least two jobs, and if one of them was cooking, I was very happy,” says Scott.
After getting laid off from her position as a social worker—and eventually hitting rock bottom—she explored opportunities in the culinary field.
“I cannot say that [culinary] was really my choice; it was very organic. The only other thing I loved was food and cooking. I lost my home, car, everything—that’s how my first real cooking job came about. I decided to work on a major cruise line.”
Four years after her full-time transition into the hospitality industry, Scott enrolled in culinary school—and quickly learned how complicated the business can be. An internship with the Food Network provided her initial exposure to culinary media, food styling and networking with established peers, eventually allowing her to gain culinary clients of her own.
Shortly after, she pursued her master’s degree in entertainment business from Full Sail University and transitioned into a career as a culinary producer: a multifaceted position that dabbles in all areas on set to run a smooth production. Her experience now includes being the culinary producer of season 2 of Bravo’s hit television show Chef Roble and Company, Throwdown With Bobby Flay and the Cooking Channel.
Progressing her way through a multilayered industry, she landed more exceptional positions, working alongside The Chew’s Carla Hall at the Barbados Food, Wine and Rum Festival and becoming a food stylist for Michael Symon and Daphne Oz.
Blossoming in the culinary industry has been a blessing, but despite her qualifications, Scott has experienced disappointment in the field she loves, being passed up for many opportunities. She explains:
I vividly remember being called by the hiring manager of a major network with excitement in her voice, [calling me] the “perfect candidate.” I was told that I’d be moving to the next round of interviews, and then I didn’t get a call back. Inquiring about the follow-up, I was met with her less-than-enthusiastic—almost bothered—tone. The job was given to a young woman who just finished her internship—she was white.
That’s just one example, and there are quite a few—each one heartbreaking and disconcerting. The takeaway for me was that when something new or different is happening, it’s always met with resistance. I always knew that it was my personal mission to end these cycles by breaking down these barriers. I later learned that like any building, there’s ways to get in other than the front door; I began to curate my career, diversify my résumé and make myself marketable.
And she did—Scott is the founder of SheChef, a culinary mentorship and leadership program for aspiring women chefs and professionals.
In a male-dominated industry, chef Elle noted that food styling and culinary production are not. “These are probably two of few areas dominated by women, [but] women of color remain a minority in these areas.” She cites culinary producers like like Ma’at Zachary and owners of Powerhouse Productions Rochelle Brown and Sonia Armstead as excellent examples in the industry, while Rosecleer-Marie Powell and Sade Aguila are two of many slaying the food styling game.
But Scott’s rise in the culinary world was interrupted by her diagnosis with stage 1C, grade 3 ovarian cancer—a cancerous tumor resting on her right ovary. Enduring six rounds of chemotherapy over a five-month period and laparoscopic surgery removing her ovary and right fallopian tube, she experienced emotional and physical changes.
“I dealt with perpetual nausea but never once vomited, extreme fatigue and worked all about a total of eight days within that five-month period,” she says. “I was on a large amount of steroids, getting medication—Taxol and Carboplatin—intravenously and gained 23 pounds that I’m still struggling to lose. I couldn’t eat much unless it was salty; lost all of my hair, even my eyelashes. I had my last round of chemo at the end of January 2017.”
She credited cancer with curing her of “personal vanity” and opts to spend more time being “present,” valuing life a bit more. This January will mark a year in remission, but whenever she experiences aches, pains and changes that aren’t documented as side effects, she’s a bit skeptical.
“Anyone having unattended health issues: GO TO THE DOCTOR!” she urges. “I feel like people of color, especially black Americans, have issues with approaching health care in this country—not that I blame them one bit. As it relates to cancer and most other diseases, early detection can and possibly will save your life. Genetic testing is a new tool for detection; request it and accept it if offered. As clichéd as it sounds, stay positive. I believe healing begins in the mind and resonates through the body.”
Scott advises fighters and survivors to embrace their feelings—good or bad. Despite others’ perspectives, take as much rest as needed and do as many things you enjoy as you can. “Cancer is what you had or have, not who you are,” she says. Women like Elle prove that the sky’s the limit; we’ll be looking forward to her future endeavors.