JWU Graduate Wins Food Network Competition

Emily Sullivan '19, a JWU Charlotte graduate, hopes her big win on Food Network’s "Supermarket Stakeout" will open doors that otherwise wouldn’t have been opened. She recently appeared on the show's season 4 episode "Boo Hoo in the Bayou" and beat out three other chefs to take home the $10,000 prize.

For those who aren't familiar with the show, "Supermarket Stakeout" is a unique and challenging competition — four chefs battle in a pop-up kitchen outside of a supermarket and must negotiate with shoppers leaving the store to try and get ingredients from their grocery bags.

"Leading up to the competition I was so nervous. I watched a ton of episodes trying to prepare like an athlete would watching game film,” Sullivan said. “I just wanted to do as much preparation as I could. Once the competition started, I got in a zone. The adrenaline was rushing, my nervousness dissipated, and I just focused on the competition. After I made it through the first round, I thought to myself – I could really win this thing."
 Emily Sullivan '19 cooking on the set of Supermarket Stakeout.

Sullivan is an Ohio native, growing up in Columbus and attending Ohio State University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in medical dietetics. After graduating from college, she moved to Europe with her husband where she fell in love with European food culture. When the couple moved back to the states, they settled in Charlotte, North Carolina, home to one of JWU's campuses.

Wanting to shift careers, Sullivan applied to JWU and was accepted to an accelerated culinary program. While a student, she worked at local restaurants to gain additional culinary experience. Sullivan graduated with a Culinary Arts associate’s degree at the age of 26 and now lives in Denver, Colorado.

“I feel like I started this career later in life. I was definitely the oldest in my culinary classes given my career shift,” Sullivan said. “I feel like JWU gave me a solid foundation for culinary techniques and the basics. It gave me a ton of confidence as a student to walk into restaurants like Kindred and Hello Sailor to ask for a job there.” 

TV cameras pointed toward Emily Sullivan '19 and another contestant on Supermarket Stakeout.

Sullivan’s experience at JWU also helped prepare her for Food Network’s "Supermarket Stakeout."

“At the show, you’re doing everything on the fly. I used all my training and knowledge to help me create dishes with super random ingredients,” Sullivan said. “The skills I learned from JWU played a huge role in that.”

One of her instructors, Master Chef Fred Tiess, recalls Sullivan as being passionate about applying her prior schooling in nutrition to her culinary studies.

"Emily developed a proficiency in classical techniques which led her to work for the James Beard-nominated Restaurant, Kindred,” Tiess said. “Since then, she’s developed her Live Nourished culinary brand, where she offers live cooking classes, recipes and merchandise. It is not a surprise that Emily has accomplished so much since graduating – she has an entrepreneurial spirit."

In the fall of 2021, a Food Network casting agent contacted Emily after coming across her website and Instagram. The agent, who was recruiting participants based in Colorado, shared details about the application and casting process. Sullivan was selected, with her episode airing in September of 2022.

“I decided to push myself out of my comfort zone,” Sullivan said. “I had never considered the competing side of food until the agent reached out to me. It was an amazing experience and I loved it.” 

Emily Sullivan'19 cooking on the set of Supermarket Stakeout

Another one of Sullivan’s former JWU chef instructors, Peter Reinhart, says Sullivan was a standout student — and that it’s no surprise she was an exceptional contestant on “Supermarket Stakeout.”

“One of the things I’d like to highlight is her willingness to do any job that needed to be done in the labs,” Reinhart said. “She brought a sense of calm to the lab that I think benefited the whole class. When we get students like that I always say, ‘Give me five like them and we could rule the world.’”

In addition to her Live Nourished brand, Emily currently works at a Denver bakery. She plans to use her competition winnings for a future brick-and-mortar business.  

“Being successful on the Food Network just three years out of culinary school is really exciting to me,” Sullivan said. “I’m excited to see what’s next.”