Katie Cavuto, Zeta Lambda - Johnson & Wales

Phi Sigs to Food Network: 'She's a Winner to Us!'

Healthy chef and reality star Katie Cavuto turns in a top performance and proves she's a class act


July 8, 2009

Katie Cavuto - Top 10 Finalist, Phi Sig SisterSO YOU THINK YOU KNOW Katie Cavuto?

Millions of foodies who’ve been tuning in weekly to watch the bright young “healthy chef” and Phi Sig sister compete as a top-10 finalist on this summer’s popular reality show, the “Next Food Network Star,” seem to think so.

Some say she “preaches” about healthy food choices, gets tangled up in “nutritional values” and sounds like a mom encouraging us to eat our veggies. Some argue that’s why she ultimately didn’t win the competition, hosted by internationally renowned chef Bobby Flay.

Talk to her, though, and to anyone in her ever-growing fan base, and you’ll quickly find – and agree – there’s much more to the story.

“I’m passionate – but ‘preachy?’ That’s just not me,” Katie says with a laugh, two days after she’d been cut from the competition with only four weeks to go – an incredible accomplishment considering 2,500 people applied for the fifth season of the show.

“Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a health freak. I love a good brownie, bacon and burgers just as much as the next person,” she says. “However, I firmly believe in ‘everything in moderation’ – and in helping people find even better ways to nourish themselves well. So when we eat, why not use the freshest, highest-quality ingredients available?”

We should, she adds. Especially for high achievers, we need and deserve to.

 

True to herself

That’s her mantra – the message she gladly shares with everyone she meets, the one she refused to abandon on the show regardless of viewers, food bloggers and even some judges who said she’d have a better chance of winning if she cut the nutritional chitchat and starting using ingredients like heavy cream.

“ ‘Green cuisine’ isn’t something I conjured up to win a TV show,” Katie says, speaking about her focus on good, simple “farm to table” seasonal and local foods, prepared well and promoting wellness. “It’s who I am.”

Indeed, Katie – an alumna of our Zeta Lambda Chapter at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island, who ultimately earned her bachelor’s and master’s in clinical nutrition – is on the cutting edge of this fast-growing, alternative culinary field.

Since launching her personal chef, catering and nutritional-coaching business, Healthy Bites of Philadelphia, in March of last year, she’s quickly become a vocal, trusted public advocate for safe, affordable and high-quality foods at a time when Americans are focusing even more on an obesity epidemic and the impact of pesticides and growth hormones on adult nutrition and childhood development. 

She’s a regularly featured chef and guest on local NBC, CBS and Fox news programs, where she teaches people easy, everyday food tips for better, healthier cooking (the same kinds of tips shared in her blog). Now, thanks to the “Next Food Network Star,” she’s won an even bigger following, and has heard from hundreds, even thousands of people who applaud her willingness to champion healthier living. To give you an idea of the kind of impact the show has had on her life and career, Healthy Bites, which was already thriving before the show, has exploded – with business volume doubling in the past month, she says.

So don’t think for a moment that the momentary disappointment she felt upon learning she was eliminated from the competition, and was no longer in the running for her own food show on the channel that launched Emeril’s career, is any indication of how she views her future.

“That shock you saw in my face? That was about as pure ‘emotion’ as it gets,” she admits. “But I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. I ended things on a high note, and I’m as proud of that as anything. It was a huge accomplishment for me, being on this show, and a wonderful learning opportunity. … Bobby Flay was an amazing person and an excellent mentor. Same is true for Rachael Ray (on whose show Katie performed in a mini-competition with other contestants in what some called her very best performance). I can’t tell you how grateful and honored I was to be there.”

Behind the scenes

So what was it like being on the show?

Surreal. Fun. Overwhelming. A pressure cooker. “It’s not the same as any other TV experience I’ve had,” says Katie, a media-savvy chef whose demo tape – selected from more than 2,500 original contestants – was done in a single take by her husband. “You have no idea what it’s like when judges are there watching everything you do!”Season 5 Finalists - Next Food Network Star 2009

Favorite experience: Living in the NYC-based house with the other 9 finalists while the program was being taped earlier this year. “It was like a sorority house,” she says laughing. “I mean it, it was! We had to eat, sleep, even breathe together, share our lives together…. The camaraderie was amazing.” [Turns out many of the contestants are Greek, too, including Jen Isham of Pi Beta Phi, Teddy Folkman of Alpha Kappa Lambda, Jamika Pessoa, of Alpha Kappa Alpha (one of Katie's best friends from the show, with whom she still keeps in touch on a daily basis), Melissa d'Arabian, of Alpha Chi Omega, and Eddie Gilbert, of Zeta Beta Tau.]

Least favorite experience: Hearing negative feedback from viewers who made incorrect assumptions based on how the show was edited (which often failed to highlight her fun-loving, easy-going personality and naturally winning way with the camera). What’s more, not everyone she worked with was always friendly. (If you watched the show, there were some typical “reality TV” moments where people got snarky or seemed inclined to diss their colleagues.)

Katie says the fact she kept her professional demeanor and her strong character intact at all times, no matter how much pressure she was under or how others might be behaving, is one of the things she’s most proud of. It’s a trait she has always valued as a Phi Sig – and something she learned from handling difficulties in her own life.

Though few people are aware of it, Katie suffered a terrible blow in her freshman year in college when, as a competitive gymnast since age 3, her career dreams were forever dashed by a devastating injury. She didn’t turn bitter, didn’t blame anyone. Instead, she turned her passion for healthy living onto a new avenue – and a new career was born.

“Look at it this way: If you consider anyone who’s accomplished something important in their lives, part of their success always involves adversity and overcoming it,” she explains. “I did that with this show, just as I like to think I’ve done with my life.”

She credits that positive, can-do attitude – that willingness to go the extra mile – in part to knowing there were women like her best friend, Phi Sig Meredith “Merri” Avino (also of Zeta Lambda), in her corner… not to mention the thousands of Phi Sigs who rooted for her throughout her time on the reality show.

“It’s critical to have a support system,” Katie says. “We all have successes and failures – and, when you’re involved in something like Phi Sig, your sisters are there to love, cherish and encourage you so you stand up and keep walking.”

What's next?

So what’s next for this Phi Sig standout? Continuing to spread the word about healthy eating – by expanding her business, and through even more TV and cooking classes and demonstrations. Finishing a new book (we’ll keep you posted). Donating her services to outstanding philanthropic organizations like the Phi Sigma Sigma Foundation – which, during Convention later this month, will be auctioning off a Healthy Bites catered dinner for eight in the winner’s home, with a menu personally customized by Katie herself. (If you’d like to join Katie in helping our Foundation by donating an item or service, contact us at 410-799-1224 or foundation@phisigmasigma.org.)

Katie LessonKatie’s also looking forward to spending even more time with her new husband Andy Boyle, who is not only her No. 1 fan, he has also been instrumental in her entrepreneurial efforts, and incredibly supportive of her recent successes…. What most interviews won’t tell you is that they were set to be married just weeks after the show’s taping concluded. (Imagine planning the final phases of your wedding under those circumstances!)

For Katie, it’s been a whirlwind year. But this dynamic Phi Sig, who insists on living life to the fullest and has big dreams for her future, wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I live my life with the mindset that anything I want to do is achievable,” Katie explains. “If you fall down, you get back up and try again. Have confidence about what you’re offering to the world. Have faith in yourself. And rely on your friends, your sisters. They’re the ones who keep you going through life – who make the journey all the more worthwhile.”


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Do you know an outstanding alumna who should be considered for our "100 by 100" alumna profiles? Write us at phisighq@phisigmasigma.org