When Mary Hilbert got the email on July 7 that she’d been selected to appear on “Live with Kelly and Ryan,” she was utterly ecstatic.
The local chef, who has a food truck called Mary’s Mobile Diner based in the Pennsauken and Merchantville area, will appear on a segment airing on Friday (9 a.m. on 6ABC) called “Live’s Hometown Chefs Summer Cooking.”
The segment is part of a series which features neighborhood chefs who show off their cooking skills on national television.
“It was amazing,” said Hilbert, a Pennsauken resident. “It was really pretty cool. I didn’t expect it at all. It was something out of the blue.”
Each summer, according to a press release from the show, “Live with Kelly and Ryan,” co-hosted by Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest, offers weekly cooking segments, which feature things like grilling, barbecue, food trucks and celebrity recipes.
This year, they turned the focus “to restaurants and establishments from across the country that are getting back to the business of food as pandemic restrictions across the nation start to lift.”
Starting on May 28, “Live’s Hometown Chefs Summer Cooking” series began featuring a different chef every Friday, with “a signature recipe from their eatery.”
She and her daughter Megan Hilbert, who runs the South Jersey-based food truck Red’s Rolling Restaurant, went to New York on July 12 and taped the show the next day. They took a bus to the city. The show put them up at a hotel and sent a car when it was time to tape.
Her daughter went to keep her company, Mary Hilbert said. She also documented the day with plenty of pictures and videos.
Mary Hilbert said co-host Ripa, a Jersey Girl who grew up in Berlin in Camden County, was friendly, as was fellow co-host Seacrest. She also got to meet the other star of the show, Michael Gelman, the show’s executive producer.
“I’ve never met so many down-to-earth people,” Mary Hilbert said. “Everybody’s just normal. Everybody was down-to-earth. Even Kelly and Ryan. They were hilarious.”
In her segment, Mary Hilbert demonstrates how to cook a Caprese Grilled Cheese sandwich, her oldest signature vegetarian option. She said they make hundreds of them on her food truck. The recipe calls for sliced tomatoes, chopped basil, roasted red peppers, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, seasoned with dried Italian herbs and served on grilled Texas toast.
“We always cooked at home; I’m Italian,” said Mary Hilbert, who had opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Marlton in the last four months with her daughter Megan called Red’s Cafe that has since closed.
“We used to throw a lot of parties for my kids. It started in the house. We started catering, for friends, neighbors, because they liked the food so much. Then we bought a little truck that catered to construction sites, to buildings. That’s how I started.”
“Live” producers also were looking for standout establishments “known not only for their incredible food but also for stepping in to serve their communities over the past year at a time when many of them were closed for business and unable to serve their customers.”
Mary’s Mobile Diner already was feeding workers at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, even before the pandemic hit more than a year ago. They banned together with Red’s Rolling Restaurant and Not Your Mama’s Tacos and embarked on a Feed the Front Line initiative, which continued to assist Cooper health care employees in Camden throughout the months of lockdown when workers had fewer in-house food choices on the overnight and weekend shifts.
The trucks were able to offer some free meals or snacks to workers thanks to donations they received from an outreach to business and individuals. They used the donations to buy fresh food they served daily.
“It wasn’t just the hospitals, it was EMTs, the police,” said Mary Hilbert, who now has two Mary’s Mobile Diner food trucks. “Anybody that walked up to my truck that was in that hospital parking lot. The nurses were recommending us. Our shift started at 9:30 at night … I was feeding them two years prior to COVID. They were like family to us. This wasn’t something we just did during COVID, we always fed them.”
Mary Hilbert, a married mother of three, thinks that this may’ve drawn the attention of whoever submitted her name to the “Live” producers.
“I don’t know,” said Hilbert, still on Cloud Nine from the experience. She added that Kelly Ripa’s father, Joe Ripa, the Camden County Clerk, likely knows people on the board at Cooper. Cooper has The Ripa Center for Women’s Health and Wellness, named for Kelly Ripa and the Ripa family.
“Somebody must’ve said something about the food trucks, my food truck or he must’ve known. I know the board knew we were there, raising money. Somebody maybe mentioned it to the board about the food trucks. I don’t know how this happened, I really don’t.”
Go: Mary’s Mobile Diner: marysmobilediner.com/; 856-840-3660
Celeste E. Whittaker is a features reporter for the Courier Post, Daily Journal and Burlington County Times. The South Jersey native started at the CP in 1998 and has covered the Philadelphia 76ers, college and high school sports and has won numerous awards for her work. Reach her at 856.486.2437 or [email protected].
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