Veteran sports reporter Jen Royle never expected to compete on a reality TV show, especially not one that showcased her culinary skills, but the North End home cook was one of 24 contestants selected to compete on ABC’s third season of “The Taste.’’
Royle’s journey to the kitchen hasn’t been a straight or easily predicted one, although she admits cooking has always been one of her favorite pastimes.
“If there’s anything I’ve always consistently loved doing, it’s cooking, but I always wanted to be a sports reporter,’’ Royle said during a phone interview. “I never thought about cooking professionally except when I graduated high school.’’
Royle, 40, admits she considered going to Johnson & Wales University in pursuit of a culinary career after graduating high school, but she ultimately chose Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I. before heading to New York where she sank her teeth into journalism.
In 2003, the then 27-year-old Mansfield native, who was raised on the Red Sox, was hired by YES Network — otherwise known as the Yankee Network — to cover her hometown team’s rivals.
“I got an interview with the Yankee Network and I got hired on the spot in 2003,’’ Royle said. “My first locker room was Yankees [versus] Red Sox at Yankee Stadium.’’
It took about six months for Royle to completely shed her Red Sox loyalties and become a professional Bronx Bomber journalist, she admits.
In her six years with YES, she covered a Yankees World Series win and countless other moments which she’ll always hold with high regard, but as Royle put it, when she isn’t challenged anymore, she’s quick to move on.
From New York, Royle set her sights on a career covering the NFL and landed in Baltimore covering the Ravens and Orioles via radio and TV in 2010.
It was in Baltimore that Royle really began exploring her passion for the kitchen because she actually had a good one to cook in.
“I started having dinner parties and cooking for everybody in the building,’’ Royle said of her time in Baltimore.
Although her time in the kitchen was good to her while in Baltimore, the fans weren’t.
“I had a really hard time in Baltimore with the fans,’’ Royle said. “They just hated a female from Boston coming in to tell them about their team.’’
The negative experiences she had on the field ultimately impacted her decision to move back to Boston.
“Baltimore offered me a third year but I said ‘I think I’m going to Boston,’’ Royle said. “‘I think I’m going home.’’’
Royle returned to the Hub in 2012 without a job but she knew what she wanted next — a radio show.
After meetings with several networks, she was offered a weekend show by former WEEI executive Jason Wolfe, returning to her Boston roots. She left the station for a part-time gig at the Herald in August, where she hosts an online video series called “Talk of the Town.’’
While Royle bolstered her sports career, she continued to experiment in the kitchen and last year, wrote a cookbook called “Bullied Into Cooking.’’ The sales of her first culinary publication benefit an anti-bullying campaign for the Boston Public Schools.
With a bit more cooking experience under her belt, one of Royle’s friends sent her a note about a Boston casting call for “The Taste,’’ and the rest — which involved lots of interviews, background checks, and questionnaires — is culinary history.
Once Royle knew for sure she’d been selected to audition in front of the show’s four judges, she worked with Davio’s owner Steve DiFillipo and the restaurant’s chef, Rodney Murillo to perfect her clam chowder technique — the dish that ultimately won her a position on chef Ludo Lefebvre’s team.
Each of the four “Taste’’ teams began with four contestants and are coached by a world-renowned chef or home cook, including Lefebvre, Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson, and Marcus Samuelsson.
Royle, who found herself in the hot seat in the show’s Dec. 18 episode, is set to compete in the season’s fourth installment on Thursday, Jan. 1 at 9 p.m. Although she’s mum about the results, she is positive about what she’s learned from the show so far.
“It was just the best experience of my life,’’ Royle said. “No World Series or Super Bowl would ever take the place of what I did in Los Angeles.’’
Next up for Royle: culinary school. She starts at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts next week.