clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Finally, a Kitchen Renovation Show for People Who Actually Cook

On Ellen Bennett’s new Tastemade show ‘Kitchen Glow Up,’ functionality comes first

If you buy something from an Eater link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics policy.

A smiling brunette woman in thick glasses and a red button up shirt with a roll of blue electrical tape around her left finger, in front of a kitchen space
Ellen Marie Bennett is the host of Tastemade’s Kitchen Glow Up.
Angel Montalvo
Jaya Saxena is a Correspondent at, and the series editor of Best American Food and Travel Writing. She explores wide ranging topics like labor, identity, and food culture.

When my dad moved into his current duplex, he quickly found that the hood over his stove didn’t connect to anything. Not that it hadn’t been installed correctly, just that it was a stainless steel funnel smacked to the wall, with nothing inside. To me, this symbolizes everything that’s gotten so wacky about the fetishization of “luxury kitchens.” It’s aesthetics over function in what is supposed to be the most functional room in the home, to the point where designers imagined a prospective dweller might be happy with the image of a sturdy, shining gas hood, and may never check to see if it actually works.

As Kate Wagner writes in The Nation, “the kitchen — originally presumed to have walls — has become more and more formless and less and less efficient for cooking.” The massive kitchens featured on most home renovation shows and in design magazines, with their islands the size of walk-in closets and open design, are actually quite bad at allowing one to accomplish the task of preparing a meal. You’re constantly walking around for what you need. Nothing is in reach. Wagner blames this on “an unsustainable cultural ecosystem that values homes as status symbols or investments rather than as places for dwelling and living.” Of course you want your kitchen to look good, but what good is that if you’re running into obstacles every time you cook?

Ellen Bennett, the chef and founder of Hedley & Bennett, says she has “ingrained into [her] soul” how to keep a professional kitchen organized from her days as a line cook. So when she began developing her new show on Tastemade, Kitchen Glow Up, which is now streaming on a variety of streaming apps, she wanted to bring a professional’s sensibility to home kitchen design. Each episode sees her renovating a kitchen in a way that’ll make it more inviting to the people using it, whether it’s a single woman in an apartment or a couple with a toddler who loves to help cook. And rather than massive renovations that turn every kitchen into a Nancy Meyer’s fantasy, these makeovers drill down into what you actually need to do your best cooking. We spoke to Bennett about her kitchen pet peeves, the importance of the spice drawer, and the things anyone can do to make their kitchens better, regardless of budget.

Eater: Why did you want to do a kitchen renovation show?

Ellen Bennett: I am a super nerd in the kitchen. I will forever call myself a line cook, and from my days in professional kitchens I have it ingrained into my soul how to keep certain things organized and clean. Through COVID I spend a lot of time just organizing my house and my kitchen with these roots of having outfitted professional kitchens. And then Andrew Zimmern [whose production company is producing Kitchen Glow Up] and I have always wanted to do something together. I had this brewing in my head, to design functional kitchens but make it look good. It’s like disguising broccoli. You want to do it because it looks good, but really you’re going to be grateful because of how well it works.

Most kitchen renovation shows focus on these big, Nancy Meyers kitchens. They’re all obsessed with the big island in the middle. What makes a good kitchen for you?

I think the Nancy Meyers kitchen is epic and amazing. I live in Pasadena, it’s what everyone aspires to. What I wanted to do with this is make it real for everybody. There’s so much out there that is aspirational, but there’s very little that’s real and practical, and so that’s where I went hard and deep and so nerdy. I saw a lot of real life kitchens in the show, and the approach was just to make any kitchen functional. If you’re a good cook, you can pretty much do anything with some fire and a knife, right? So we upgraded the basics.

I think one of the things that I made sure every single kitchen on the show had was a 36-inch wide sink, one that you can fit a sheet tray in, a giant pot. You don’t have the double sink where you can’t fit anything in it. And from a function standpoint, in professional kitchens, they have the little foot pumps to turn the water on so you don’t have cross contamination. I found this awesome family owned business called Principal Faucets and we put in foot pedals on almost every single house. And then we took everything out of the cabinets and we put in pull-out shelves or cabinets that were just cabinets. I call it light customization. Nothing was being built from scratch but I was taking the bones of a kitchen and improving it.

That’s kind of how I roll with my own life too. Everybody needs a pantry. You should have a dedicated spice drawer, you should have a Tupperware drawer that doesn’t look like shit. And you should have a prep station, a little corner that’s set up with a cutting board, oil, salt, pepper, and a little bowl of lemons. You don’t have to look around for your towels or your knife or your cutting board. It’s all set up and ready to go.

What are your biggest kitchen design pet peeves? I feel we see a lot of things in kitchens right now that are very beautiful but are not actually very functional.

I think not having a pantry is a huge pet peeve of mine, I would say more than half of the kitchens we did didn’t have proper pantries. And a pantry could be you go to IKEA and you buy a cabinet and you put it in your hallway and call it a pantry. It just makes the work so much harder. You’re like which of these seven cabinets of mine did I put my orzo in? And spice drawers are a disaster. Most of the time well over 50 percent of their spices are expired.

For people who can’t afford a renovation, what are some actionable steps they can do in their space to feel better about their kitchen as it exists?

If you don’t have a lot of money, I would start with getting the basics to be of a higher quality, and that’s very much from the Hedley & Bennett period of my life. Everything we do is about extreme quality and [asking], can you beat it up? So for a kitchen I think about it in the same way. Get All-Clad pans, upgrade your knives, get a proper cutting board. If you can afford to get a better stove, do that. If you can’t afford to get a better stove, get something like the Breville Joule Oven, which is awesome. In my house, our oven is from like 1975, and I haven’t changed it out, but we got a Joule. And you can also take it with you. If you’re on a tight budget, you want to be able to take that stuff with you to the next destination.

If you have a little more money, then I’d start spending some cash on organizational things. So going into the Container Store and getting drawer inserts. And no matter what, you just have to purge and empty out your cabinets and group things like with like. If you have more of a budget, let’s call it several thousand dollars, that’s when I would start adding a couple things like pull-out cabinets, or you can paint your cabinets. I also love to use wallpaper in the kitchen. It’s a fun way to incorporate color and vibe without it costing a fortune and frankly, you can DIY it.

It’s fascinating how there aren’t really any bedroom renovation shows, everyone is obsessed with the kitchen as a space. How do you think the kitchen came to be such a status symbol?

Everybody eats, right? It’s this core necessity. And I do feel that with COVID, and because of Instagram and social media, everybody was in their kitchen cooking, and then they started documenting it. And then they kind of wanted to one up each other. You’re showing what you’ve got, and the tools you have. I know I am. I like to have my Le Creusets out on display and beautiful pans that I’ve saved up to buy. Also, it’s just straight up the hearth, the heart of the home. People are going to come together and they’re going to hang out in there. I had a bunch of my family members at my house yesterday and everybody was in the kitchen. They want to see things being made, and I also find they want to help. Like, what can I grab? What can I chop? And then they feel more at home.

What would you like to see more of in the home renovation space? What trends do you think need to break open?

I think what Tastemade is doing is pretty awesome. That concept of being more practical and helpful to the people watching is awesome. Because I know for a fact that if I sit down and binge Netflix for three hours, I’m not getting anything other than a headache. But if I could watch something and get inspired to organize my spice cabinet, that’s pretty rad. Having things that are a little bit less Instagrammable for the sake of it and more functional and practical — at every stage of us filming the show, I was always like what am I teaching people today? If the camera men were going home and organizing a piece of their house, I knew that we were doing it right.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.