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Penn State Alum Taking Passion For Storytelling & Cooking To Next Level

Gabrielle Chappel applies being a storyteller to everything in life, whether she’s working in production, as a journalist, or competing on “Next Level Chef.”

Chappel, who graduated from Penn State in 2016 with degrees in Spanish and journalism, never thought she would find herself not only on Gordon Ramsay’s show but on his team, cooking side by side with the legendary chef.

“If this never aired and if no one ever saw it, I would still think it was so fully worth it and that’s why I went in the first place,” Chappel said. “I didn’t really care about being on TV. Ultimately, to be able to cook side by side with Chef Ramsay, who would say no to that? That’s just a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing.”

While at Penn State, Chappel was involved in multiple extracurricular activities, including Homecoming and broadcast journalism experiences. She shared that majoring in journalism is still beneficial because of the landscape today.

“No matter what, I have been able to apply being a storyteller to what I’m doing. Whether that’s working in production, being a journalist, or cooking and creating experiences and meals for people,” Chappel said. “I feel like that’s sort of the motif. ‘How do I make a story out of this? How do I utilize my skills to create something memorable?'”

Cooking was always a part of Chappel’s life as she grew up cooking with her family and grandparents, and the memories associated were a large part of her love for it. Being at Penn State was when cooking really became practical for her, having to cook the majority of her meals throughout college and forced to practice.

Even though it was a necessity, her cooking always seemed to go a bit further than the other college students she saw, and she never considered it a chore. Instead, it was almost therapeutic for her to turn her brain off and do something completely different from her homework, always enjoying her time in the kitchen and allowing her to gravitate toward it later on.

While at Penn State, Chappel spent a semester studying abroad in Spain and got her first exposure to living in a city, which taught her even more about food. Living in a city, there was access to more cuisines, cultures, and ingredients than Chappel ever had growing up in Pennsylvania. Now, she lives in New York City and walks past four different food stands, all of different cultures, on her four-minute walk to the subway station.

“There’s access to ingredients everywhere when you’re in a more multicultural society,” Chappel said. “I feel like that was really pivotal in me wanting to learn more and creating, knowing more about different foods, styles, and techniques. I think that studying abroad was a big part of a hard launch into that craving of discovery.”

The sense of community at Penn State and its global reach has prepared Chappel to live in a big city.

“Being in that environment where everything and anything you could possibly want to experience is accessible by means of what students are doing and organizing and putting together,” Chappel said. “And just having that opportunity, and being a part of something that people are really proud to be a part of was really pivotal and essential for my growth as a student and then as a young professional.”

After graduation, Chappel worked in the production industry, both in advertising as a producer and host in front of the camera.

She started working with Epicurious, working on screen as talent for its YouTube videos and was featured in its most popular series that includes pro chefs and home cooks swapping ingredients before making the same meal. Epicurious was what Chappel looked forward to the most, making her realize it truly was her favorite thing.

When the pandemic hit, she worked for a digital pharmacy startup, and most of her other freelance opportunities fell away because of the restrictions. Stuck in her job, she realized it was time to take the leap and make a change.

“I just remember thinking there is no way that this is what I’m going to be doing the rest of my life,” Chappel said. “And that’s when I was like, ‘What better time than now?’ If there’s anything we’ve ever learned from these crazy times, it’s that we got to take some risks.”

Chappel attended the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan, studying in its health-supportive culinary arts program. Instead of a traditional cooking curriculum, she looked at mostly plant-based cooking, nutrition, and healing foods.

Chappel always gravitated toward non-traditional cooking, preferring the plant-based route over the traditional French style. On that same note, she gravitated away from the traditional restaurant kitchen route.

She was used to the long hours and challenging lifestyle through production and knew she didn’t want to be stuck in that field. Chappel worked in a restaurant for a short time to complete her culinary degree, but after graduation, moved on to a catering company in Brooklyn.

She worked for Fancy Girl Table, a female-owned and operated company focusing on farm-to-table ingredients. There, she had lots of room to play around with creations while still gaining practical experience, not only in professional cooking but creating food in bulk for big events like weddings.

At the same time, she was also working as a private chef and helping create pop-ups with her friends. In New York City, chefs create pop-up dinners or shows — a one-night-only restaurant experience. Chappel worked alongside these experienced chefs to help them execute their dinners and began to experiment with them on her own.

Then, she was approached about “Next Level Chef.”

One of Chappel’s friends from the Homecoming Production Committee whom she had met freshman year was living in Los Angeles as a casting director and reached out to ask if she was interested in applying for the show. This was the second time she had asked about an application, and with this approach, Chappel decided to give it a shot.

Filming began in September and took about a month, as Chappel shot nearly every day. In the show, there are three teams divided among chefs Gordon Ramsay, Nyesha Arrington, and Richard Blais. Each team is assigned a level to cook in for the day with a top-level kitchen equipped with high-end tools, the middle with standard tools, and the bottom level containing the lowest-quality equipment.

Not only is there a difference in quality but in ingredients, too. Before each challenge, a platform full of ingredients moves from the top level to the bottom, giving chefs on each level 30 seconds to grab whatever food they can to create a dish from. Whatever they select is what they have to work with.

Chappel said filming was equal parts exhilarating and terrifying, challenging her in a way she had never been before. Each day, she set out to create something “different, unique, and beautiful” while using ingredients she doesn’t specialize in or may have never worked with before.

“What I love most about ‘Next Level Chef’ is that the show is catered toward providing people with the experience of connecting with these chefs who are just esteemed in their fields and doing incredible things, and it’s just such a rare, one-of-a-kind, unique opportunity,” Chappel said.

There were many things out of her wheelhouse in the show she had to overcome. In the last episode, Chappel won the steak challenge over the other chefs, even though she specializes in plant-based cuisine. Her work with Epicurious prepared her for the competition as she swapped ingredients with professional chefs and was introduced to ingredients and techniques she never would’ve been otherwise.

While on Ramsay’s team and working closely with him, she still learned from Arrington and Blais.

“Being able to get such solid advice and seeing these other mentors and how they were able to give advice based on their experiences, and experiences as competitors specifically, it was really encouraging and so unique to be able to have that opportunity,” she said.

Next Level Chef is still airing new episodes on Thursdays on FOX, but Chappel is continuing to create content and pop-ups. Chappel started diving into making content about a year ago, right before she was approached about the show. She was using her channels casually but gained an audience through her appearances on Epicurious and decided it was worthwhile to share her joy, areas of expertise, and recipes.

She has been sharing content for people especially curious about her farm-to-table style of cooking, sustainability in cooking, and simply creating unique and delicious flavor profiles overall. On the side, Chappel has been thrilled at the opportunities to create dinners, community events, and educational opportunities.

“I think ultimately, as I continue to learn in this space, I want to give back,” Chappel said. “I know that people are curious about cooking, about ingredients, about eating more sustainably and eating things that are locally grown. I just want to give people a means to learn more about those things.”

Chappel wants to drive home storytelling in all areas of her work and went about doing that in her latest pop-up. Themed “Thank you, winter,” the dinner was made to evoke memories with dishes that were prevalent in her wintertime childhood with her grandparents. She chose winter produce that people may generally find boring and put them together in a new way to show that winter is something to be grateful for, tying it in with her memories and cultures.

“Anytime I do a pop-up, it will have a story or message that I’m trying to fold in or I take people on a journey. I used to work in experiential production, and it’s how are we storytellers through the space — what we’re eating, touching, smelling, and creating those kinds of moments as opposed to just making a menu. For me, I love there to be this extra element because this just helps me convey my passion a bit more,” Chappel said.

While Chappel used her background in broadcast journalism and storytelling in her new cooking career and time on “Next Level Chef,” she emphasized it all comes down to doing what she loves.

“As a student at Penn State, you’ll learn so much,” Chappel said. “You’ll have exposure to so many people, keep in touch with those people. You never know where you’re going or when you’ll need support. On top of that, don’t think too hard or be too pressured to feel like you have to know exactly what you want to do for the rest of your life. Because at the end of the day, you never know. You might end up on a cooking show with Gordon Ramsay.”

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About the Author

Ashley Connington

Ashley is a sophomore studying journalism from New Jersey. She is not okay about Saquon leaving the Giants and was crying on her couch all day. She can't look at all of her Saquon merch and doesn't know when she will recover. You can email [email protected] to send her ways to meet Saquon or watch her obsess over Chelsea FC on twitter @ashconnington.

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