Emmy Award-winning sports reporter Jen Royle, 40, recently made it to the finale of the ABC cooking series The Taste as the only non-professional chef competing. As a journalist, she has covered the New York Yankees, the Baltimore Ravens and the Red Sox. She is currently a reporter for The Boston Herald and host of the online video series Talk of the Town. A Boston native, she lives in the North End and recently released her second cookbook.
Jen Royle: We finished taping at the end of September, so I’ve known for months. And as anyone who knows me can tell you, I have the biggest mouth, so it was very difficult to keep it a secret. I told a few family members and very close friends how I did, but I never gave away who was the actual winner.
Going from MLB to reality TV is a pretty strange transition. It is. But for 13 years before that, I was in locker rooms, and outside the locker room, all I did was cook, so for me it doesn’t feel that strange. I would leave Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium and come home to watch cooking shows. I don’t watch sports at home. I really shut them off when I’m away from work.
Favorite cooking show? They’ve changed over the years, because I’m becoming a better cook. I don’t like to watch chefs who measure everything. Ina Garten on Barefoot Contessa drives me nuts with all her measuring. Real chefs don’t measure. So I like shows where the chef says, “If you think it needs a little more heat, add some chile flakes. If you think it’s too dry, add some chicken stock.”
So you’ve outgrown some shows? I’m starting to watch shows where instead of learning the basics, I’m learning how to put twists on things. So my favorite cooking show right now? Obviously, I love The Taste. I still love Chopped. But I don’t like watching shows that give you strange ingredients, because honestly, I’m never going to have the opportunity to try to fit jelly beans into my chicken marsala. I don’t learn anything from that, and there are so many weird shows out there now. Cutthroat Kitchen is fun, but I don’t think I’m going to have someone take all my pots and pans away and ask me to make something in a soup ladle.
Ludo, by far. And not just because I was on his team. He just cares so much. He considered us friends, as well as students. I learned the most from him. I wanted to be pushed to the limit and get that tough love. I work in locker rooms. I thrive in chaotic environments.
He taught me how to shuck clams. He and Rodney Murillo, his executive chef, were amazing. I knew I was making clam chowder for my audition, and I wanted to put a spin on it. The three of us sat down and brainstormed. They acted like they were going in for the audition. Steve put a clock in front of me and said, “There’s gonna be a clock on the show. You need to get it right five times. Now, do it.” They taught me everything about cooking under pressure.
The Taste [Laughs] Nope. That’s me. I made a conscious effort to stay true to myself. The things I said or the feelings I had, they were real. I didn’t want to be someone I wasn’t. That was how I felt at the time. It was all me. They never tried to cajole me into doing or saying anything. Everybody on that show was cursing, and they chose to portray me with a potty mouth, but that’s who I am.
I’m in culinary school at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. I’m learning so many things I wish I’d known in September. Maybe I’d have won The Taste.
Fenway Franks are like crack. I eat three hot dogs every time I go there. It’s the best. I love yellow mustard on a steamed hot dog.
A chef. I want somebody to cook for me.
No. Every baseball player I know hires a chef or a nutritionist.
Meow! Any kind of a gently cooked fish in a fragrant broth, like lemongrass and ginger, served with blanched vegetables. When I did it on the show, Anthony Bourdain called it very sophisticated, extremely well-executed and refined. Anybody who knows me knows that refined is the last word to describe me. I’m learning to cook more gently and delicately.
Something Italian, for sure. I live in the North End, so I would run and get a loaf of bread, and I would probably whip up a homemade tomato sauce in no time. I actually make my own pasta now. I have a little hand-cranked pasta maker.
I’m branching out a lot into Mexican. I could make you flour or corn tortillas and whip together a chipotle chicken. I always have avocadoes and cilantro and some sort of citrus. My refrigerator contents have changed drastically since I learned how to cook.
Such a great question. Apple juice, parmesan cheese and something way past its expiration date.
Taste everything as you go along. If you’re making a dish, you should legitimately taste it 15 times before it’s done.
Lemon juice or fresh citrus can do so much. And sugar, when things get a little too bitter.
Thing you find hardest to make? I’m a horrible baker. It’s one or the other. Chefs don’t have the patience. I don’t measure anything, and you have to in baking. I can cook a seven-course meal, but I can’t bake a batch of cookies to save my life.
Duck heart. Surprisingly, it just tasted like roast beef.
Yes. That’s definitely in my future. I want a really small restaurant, like 20 seats, tops.
Of all time? Pedro Martinez. I covered him for probably a decade, both with the Red Sox and the Mets. We developed a really nice friendship. I remember when his father passed away. It was the same day as my father’s anniversary, July 23. I’m so lucky to know him on a level most people don’t.
Joe Nathan. Joe Maddon is like a father to me. But I’m going with Mariano Rivera.
Biggest jerk? Carl Pavano. Not enough space on the page. Just a selfish jerk. Who else do I hate? Miguel Cabrera. So immature. But I think the biggest is Josh Beckett. Biggest jerk I’ve ever been around in professional sports.
I know! But I think what a lot of people don’t understand is that a fan is not a journalist, and a journalist is not a fan. I was so excited that I had the opportunity to cover the Yankees, the rivalry was the last thing on my mind. Honestly, after a certain amount of time, you don’t even look at these guys as baseball players. They become colleagues. You become friends. You get to know their children.
Person you’d most like to cook for? Ben Affleck. The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.
Hell, yeah! Every Internet hater. And there are some bitchy females in the sports business I’d love to make throw up.
Name the date.