By Paige Bodine
Dreams were coming true for Jenn Fillenworth. She was an instructor at Grand Rapids Community College, her personal chef business was booming, and had just been asked to compete on an upcoming Food Network show. Everything seemed to be falling into place especially after all of the hard work, long hours, and schooling that Fillenworth had been doing to move to the next level. However, on Nov. 2, 2019, disaster struck when Fillenworth and her husband decided to take a much needed weekend getaway to Frankfort, Michigan. As the couple made the road trip further north the sleet, ice, and rain became dangerous. Soon the car was hydroplaning and went directly, full force into trees. Thankfully her husband was not harmed but Fillenworth was rushed to the hospital.
When reflecting on her traumatic accident, Fillenworth, 30, said, “I had a spinal fracture so I ended up having a fusion. I am in a job where I am consistently lifting things. I had to establish a new normal and slowly work up my endurance to do things again.”
For Fillenworth, it was all about taking gradual baby steps to get back into the kitchen. Slowly but surely, she regained her strength and used her time to discover recipes and reflect on what her passion was. Suddenly those things that many take for granted such as running, standing, and lifting things up, were physical characteristics that she trained every day to regain. Soon she got a call from Food Network, asking if she would again consider competing in their competition against three other high-level culinary competitors on the third season of the show, “Supermarket Steakout.”
The premise of the show is that each week, the competitors must make dishes based on different themes. The competitors even buy the groceries from the shoppers at the supermarket. The whole event takes place in a parking lot of a grocery store. The competitions can last hours and can be physically grueling, especially for someone that is still regaining strength such as Fillenworth.
“I was still in the hospital when they [Food Network] contacted me about filming dates. I knew there was no way that this was going to happen,” Fillenworth said. “I had multiple trauma surgeries… In the spring, they reached out to me again and told me they would be filming late summer or early fall.”
Since Fillenworth was regaining strength every day, she decided that she would take the risk and get ready for the competition. Fillenworth is a recent 2019 graduate of GRCC’s Secchia Institute of Culinary Arts. She had received her master’s degree in Human Nutrition from Central Michigan University and then decided to combine her love of dietetics with cooking, creating healthy recipes, and teaching. In fact, her perspective on using food as medicine is something that makes Fillenworth an amazing instructor at Grand Rapids Community College.
“Teaching has always been a huge goal for me,” She said. “Specifically to teach more about the nutrition piece to culinary students. You don’t see a lot of that in the foodservice industry where there is a big focus on nutrition and how we can really heal people with food.”
Her unique view on food is something that she was motivated to bring into the competition. The other competitors have diverse backgrounds and are used to cooking things quickly and working in a kitchen every night. Fillenworth has a different culinary background working at Root Pharmacy, creating healthy food and viewing it as a medicine.
When she was reflecting on her out-of-the-box thinking and also her competitive spirit she said, “I’ve always been a really competitive person. Not necessarily with other people but for myself and trying to set new goals that I would like to achieve.”
Fillenworth has gone through ups and downs and has a fighting spirit. She is passionate about what she does and is constantly trying to better herself every day.
She reflected on her life journey stating that it is important to “trust that gut feeling and what you are passionate about. There were a couple of times where I gave up a great job because I wanted to follow my passion. It was always terrifying to try something new. Have confidence and stick to it.”
Tune in and cheer on Fillenworth on Food Network’s show, Supermarket Steakout, which will air on Jan. 19 at 10 p.m.