Rory Schepisi,former chef-owner of the Vega, Texas, restaurant Boot Hill Saloon & Grill, comes from a background that is anything but Western cowgirl. But this New Jersey Italian, who grew up in a restaurant family and started cooking while still in her teens, has taken to Western life like barbecue takes to Texas campfires. What brought her to the Lone Star State from the East Coast in 2005 was a contestant spot on CMT’s reality show Popularity Contest.And what kept her in the small town of Vega, where the show was shot, was love for the place and for a cowboy. In 2007, she was a fan favorite on Food Network Star,and in 2008 made guest appearances on TLC’s Home Made Simple. Along the way, the Jersey girl learned Western ways, like milking cows and taming horses, and was dubbed the Southern Yankee.

Rewind to the Southern Yankee’s East Coast life: After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, New York, Schepisi, who has a love for New Orleans and good Cajun food, went back to her home state to open restaurant Bourbon Street. But this chef also had the bug to be an actor, so went west to L.A., where she worked at restaurant/film venue Cinespace and did a lot of auditions. Which led her to Popularity Contest. And on to Texas, where she did a weekly cooking segment on the showStudio4 on KAMR/NBC from Amarillo, and a monthly column in Metropolis Nights magazine called the “Moodie Foodie.”

Twice voted Best Chef of the West by the Texas Restaurant Association, Schepisi is a brand ambassador for Certified Angus Beef.