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The 700 Club

Tasting Grace

GROWING UP
Melissa was raised by a single mom on a shoestring budget while she put herself through college and medical school. Her mom loved them deeply but was stressed about school, money and feeding her kids. Lunches for Melissa consisted of cornflakes, an apple or maybe a paper-thin slice of lunchmeat on bread. It was at her school’s lunchroom Melissa realized they were poor. “The food we eat reinforces not just our ethnic or cultural identity but also our economic identity. One day, one of the hot lunch kids noticed she wasn’t eating. She went to the office and requested a lunch knowing her mom would not be able to pay back the debt, but she was hungry and the food smelled so good. The receptionist realized the need and asked Melissa if she would help out or intern in the cafeteria to help serve lunches and as payment, she would receive a free lunch. This job changed her life. When people shared with her and made sure she was fed, she felt their compassion and she felt community.

By her teen years, Melissa’s mom was finally a doctor with a job at the Bethesda Naval Hospital near Washington, D.C. Financially things were much better for their family. In college, Melissa called her mom on April 13, 1989 to ask for money to take a test-prep course for graduate school. The line was busy for hours. Finally, an unfamiliar voice answered. She learned from an officer that her mother had died by suicide. Her mom’s suicide shook the foundation of Melissa’s life emotionally, financially, logistically, and spiritually. She spent an entire decade in grief unable to make sense of her death. She refers to this time in her life as a spiritual winter. During this time Melissa, who was most of the time only a social drinker, began drinking more. One night after attending a Christian singles mixer where she drank too much she got pulled over. She got a DUI and even went to jail for the night. After she was released, she prayed and pleaded with God to give her a second chance. In that moment, her ten-year spiritual winter ended and she found God again. Another struggle for Melissa has been with her body image. “I have a somewhat complicated history with food and my body,” shares Melissa. As a child she did not always have enough to eat so she would fill her plate when she had the opportunity. As an adult, she struggled with wanting to be pretty and admired by the world. She would eat certain foods and exercise to get thinner, but not to take care of God’s temple. As she studied scripture, Melissa realized that God wants us to take care of our bodies and honor him by eating nourishing food and exercising to fuel our bodies and keep them strong.

After college Melissa spent a year at sea as part of the entertainment staff on cruise ships before going on to earn her MBA. Her professional career began in consulting, and Melissa eventually worked in corporate finance at Disney in Burbank, California and in merchandise finance at Euro Disney outside of Paris where she met and eventually married her husband, Philippe in 2003. Her time in Paris is where she fell in love with food. She gave up the safety of familiar cookbook recipes and found new ways to prepare food. Melissa purchased the ingredients (unfamiliar cuts of meat like duck neck and unfamiliar greens) from specialty shops which inspired her cooking. Paris is where she discovered her love of cooking and found how God was connected to the ingredients.

After having four daughters in 2.5 years, Melissa changed paths to focus on being a stay-at-home mom and quickly realized she needed to streamline the family’s expenses so they could live on a single income. She could never have guessed that a home video of her making yogurt – a simple yet successful strategy that saved Melissa over $1,000 a year – to share with local moms would also be her ticket to the newest chapter in her career and life path. She submitted this video to Food Network and it led to her being cast on the fifth season of The Next Food Network Star.

THE NEXT FOOD NETWORK STAR
The week before Melissa got married her mother-in-law, Muriel, taught her how to make her family famous butter piecrust. The recipe became the star ingredient in Melissa’s potato-bacon torte. In 2009, Melissa used this recipe as part of a challenge on The Next Food Network Star. She served it to a group of famous chefs including Bobby Flay. Melissa was one of the three finalists fighting for a spot in the finale. Her potato-bacon torte helped her secure one of the coveted spots and eventually win the title of The Next Food Network Star. She says, “You might say that I count this recipe as one of my lucky charms.” During the competition she trusted the ingredients and kept her focus on God. “Winning the competition wasn’t so much the prize as the by-product of the real win: finding my center in God,” shares Melissa.

ABOUT MELISSA
After winning season five of The Next Food Network Star, Melissa premiered her inaugural cooking show Ten Dollar Dinners proving a delicious budget-friendly meal can be made without compromise and always delivering on her $10 promise – four people, ten bucks, infinite possibilities. She has also written two cookbooks, her first Ten Dollar Dinners was as an instant New York Times best seller. Melissa also developed a step-by-step program to combat the all-too-common picky eating issue, which she shares in the FoodNetwork.com series The Picky Eaters Project. In her FoodNetwork.com web series, Smart Carts, she shares smart strategies to navigating and saving in the grocery store. Melissa also serves as a recurring judge on Food Network’s primetime competition series, Guy’s Grocery Games. She also hosted Cooking Channel’s Drop 5 lbs. with Good Housekeeping, a healthy lifestyle series based on the magazine’s popular monthly column, in addition to a variety of appearances on Food Network primetime series including Chopped, Cutthroat Kitchen, The Best Thing I Ever Ate, and Food Network Challenge. Melissa is also a sought-after speaker who shares her wide-ranging expertise on topics including food, money saving, family, healthy lifestyle, business, and faith. She also lends her voice to causes close to her heart such as childhood hunger alongside Share Our Strength’s No Kind Hungry campaign and suicide awareness with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

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Guest Info

Credits

Author, latest: Tasting Grace (WaterBrook, 2019)

Celebrity chef; Television host

Winner of Food Network Star season five

Received her bachelor’s degree from The University of Vermont

MBA from Georgetown University

Married to Philippe

Four daughters: Valentine, Charlotte, and twins Margaux and Océane

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