Home News Half Baked Harvest’s Star Encourages Loyalty—and Controversy

Half Baked Harvest’s Star Encourages Loyalty—and Controversy

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Tieghan Gerard was busy lighting pumpkin spice-scented candles when I arrived at her studio this month. Following months of negotiations between representatives who represent her schedule and image and herself, she had agreed to cook two recipes from Half Baked Harvest that I selected myself.

Small, soft-spoken and eager to please, she warmly welcomed me but disappointed me by explaining that coq au vin blanc meatballs and coffee-frosted pumpkin spice cake would take two days of preparation – both dishes would not be available to me on my visit.

half baked harvest nyt
half baked harvest nyt

Instead of her traditional white chicken chili simmering in a traditional Dutch oven, her staple recipe was simmered instead in a pumpkin-shaped Dutch oven. As part of her fall harvest salad she added apples and toasted pumpkin seeds sliced thin before moving onto her favorite part: arranging her shot Tucking and pulling greens, fanning out apples into plushy arrangements and dotting shiny seeds was part of what made the process fun for her.

“My recipe-creation process has always been focused on visual appeal,” she noted about her recipe-development method. “I work from how I imagine my finished dish should appear.

Since 2012, Ms. Gerard has published nearly daily recipes on Half Baked Harvest that she illustrates with photos and videos shot from her hillside compound home, Half Baked Harvest. This steady stream of new content keeps her followers -currently totalling 5.4 million on Instagram alone — fed and satisfied; celebrities like Gigi Hadid, Emma Roberts, and Blake Lively all featured Half Baked Harvest recipes while posting about cooking them at home.

From the very start, her recipes – often featuring cheese-laden dishes such as mac and cheese or crispy chicken strips with creamy filling – found an ideal balance between approachability and aspirationality. She quickly immersed herself into this community, thanking and responding to fans 24/7.

Tina Nowak, 34 years old from Chicago said that she often uses all three Half Baked Harvest cookbooks in her kitchen outside Chicago.

Ms. Gerard has become an unwilling lightning rod of controversy in the food world over the last decade – becoming embroiled in debates regarding cultural appropriation, intellectual property protection, body shaming, privilege and racism.

Half Baked Harvest began as a chronicle of Ms. Gerard’s large family dinners she prepared for her parents, siblings (age range: 3-38), and extended family. Through hard work coupled with an anxiety-fueled upbringing that has kept her close to family, Ms. Gerard has created one of food world’s most consistently successful platforms.

She expressed that she enjoyed both aspects of her job, “loved being creative”, as it occupies most of her life at home.

Ms. Gerard recently celebrated her 30th birthday. Since she moved here at 14 she has lived here, apart from briefly attending fashion school in Los Angeles that was cut short due to homesickness. Her mother Jen, 57, still runs Half Baked Harvest from their house several hundred yards uphill while Ms. Gerard still doesn’t drive and has only traveled outside North America once to watch Olympic snowboarder Red Gerard win gold at Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics in South Korea.

Ms. Gerard’s recipes remain an indispensable staple for thousands of American women living between the coasts, including her 700,000 daily email subscribers and the over two million readers of her cookbooks. Her core demographic of 25-44 year-olds remains passionately loyal – 60 percent open her newsletter daily, which speaks volumes.

But much has stayed the same. Ms. Gerard, who is white, has long been criticised for mispronouncing dishes from different cultures and misidentifying her own creations, such as misnaming tacos with pineapple as Hawaiian or noodles with honey and peanut butter as Chinese dishes.

Since 2021, when she posted a recipe that bears no relation to Vietnamese pho, many longtime fans took issue with her disregarding cuisine from nonwhite cultures. She apologized profusely and promised that “more research” would be conducted on such dishes in future.

Last March, when it happened again with a “banh mi rice bowl,” there was even greater outrage and Ms. Gerard apologized again (both recipes remain on her site with slightly altered titles). NBC News covered it.

Andrea Nguyen, a Vietnamese American food expert who commented on Gerard’s video content creation process. Nguyen found herself sympathizing with Gerard’s continuous content production needs as she praised her hard work ethic; in an ideal world, Gerard’s mistakes would encourage people to do more research rather than call out names.

Just last month, Ms. Gerard posted a “Thai” beef stew sweetened with pomegranate juice – an ingredient popular in Middle Eastern cooking.

“She’s an excellent food stylist,” Hannah Selinger, an author who writes about food and restaurants. “But why doesn’t she show more interest in it herself, or at least contribute more knowledge? Why does she get invited to participate when so many others already do know the subject matter?”

Detractors of Ms. Gerard have also filled her comment sections after fellow bloggers such as Gaby Dalkin of What’s Gaby Cooking and Adrianna Guevara Adarme of A Cozy Kitchen made public claims that Ms. Gerard copied their recipes. Her personality and recipes caused so much turmoil online that most sources I contacted refused to speak out publicly against her.

Ms. Gerard explained her errors as genuine curiosity for different cultures’ cuisines and traditions. Her critics contend she takes advantage of unearned privilege due to her wealth and whiteness; Ms. Gerard counters this claim with hard work over 10 years to garner her following and success; those criticizing her say she does not possess specific cooking abilities and posts the same recipes over and over while she says she meets readers where they are at in life.

Ms. Gerard started Half Baked Harvest on WordPress in 2012 when Instagram was only two years old and she was 19-years-old with an interest in photography as her hobby.

No one could predict then how Instagram, YouTube and other forms of visual media would influence what the world would eat. From its inception, Ms. Gerard’s meals photographed in warm high-altitude lighting appeared as delicious homemade offerings photographed with care by Ms. Gerard herself.

Erica Vargas, an avid viewer of Half Baked Harvest, commented, “I didn’t need to know much about cooking in order to do what she did,” according to her assessment of Half Baked Harvest’s effectiveness as an educational program.

At first, home cooks – particularly the growing cohort of millennials starting their own households — were drawn to her family life as much as to her recipes. Unlike Ina Garten or Joanna Gaines, Ms. Gerard was young, unmarried and an admittedly inept cook; both her parents spent very little time in the kitchen when she was growing up – meaning dinnertime became chaos every night until she decided to do the cooking herself.

Gerard learned how to cook from the internet alone. While Julia Child studied with professional chefs and Martha Stewart built an empire on catering services, Ms. Gerard used restaurant menus and food websites as her source of culinary inspiration. Her studio kitchen features six KitchenAid mixers but no cookbooks (as many companies sponsored the building of it).

Her breakthrough moment came in 2017, when Anthropologie, a fashion and lifestyle retailer, started stocking her first cookbook. “Half Baked Harvest Every Day,” published during the pandemic of 2022, spent 33 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list.

Ms. Gerard can frequently be seen on “Good Morning America” and “Today”, has her own line of candles, endorses cosmetic brands, and recently collaborated with Home Chef (owned by Kroger).

Gerard also devotes considerable resources to counter the persistent online critics who critique her likes, photos and body language. Now she employs four full-time and two part-time staff; their primary function is deleting negative comments across her blog and social media accounts in order to create an environment in which she feels secure.

“I like following people who make me feel good,” she stated. She dismissed any criticism against her as internet hate and stressed that the majority of her audience are actually fans.

Reddit allows anonymous commenters to discuss her motivations and inner demons freely; in a weekly “snark” thread dedicated to her. Members of FoodieSnark subreddit monitored geotags in Chicago so as to see how many fans showed up for her promotional appearance for her pumpkin-spice candle.

Hanna, one of Hanna’s contributions to this thread who declined to provide her surname out of fear of online harassment, commented on this topic by noting: “People have both gently and less-than-gently called her out for her misdeeds. Yet it seems she never seems to take responsibility or learn from her errors.”

Ms. Gerard finds herself taking serious offense to allegations from followers some sympathetic, some not — that she peddles high-calorie and fattening food without ever tasting it herself. This criticism has caused great distress to Ms. Gerard.

Ms. Gerard asserted she does not suffer from an eating disorder but instead experiences social and separation anxiety, for which she seeks treatment “privately,” by working long hours, often forgetting to eat or sleep as she does so.

Mother of Ms. Gerard, also small and intense, found online discussion of her body to be both sexist and judgmental. “It’s unfortunate that people feel entitled to comment on someone being underweight when they would never make such statements if the individual were overweight,” said Mother.

Ms. Gerard has found much success in the food world, yet is trying to disengage from it. Her Half Baked Harvest brand had an informal, homely image; now, however, she wears Bottega Veneta cashmere sweaters, promotes expensive red-light anti-ageing masks for $500 and attends runway shows at New York Fashion Week without hesitation.

Half Baked Harvest no longer exclusively offers recipes; Ms. Gerard has taken to posting links for clothes, jewelry and hotels – tempting visitors into her bubble. “I want those clickbacks,” she stated firmly, as TikTok could disappear any minute; Instagram may belong to someone else but not me! This site belongs solely to her.

Tieghan Gerard loves this time of year – and its associated website traffic: according to Jen Gerard, November and December each bring in 23-25 million page views! Unfortunately though, with every holiday comes technical questions such as defrosting turkey safely or adapting a recipe based on high altitude cooking (Silverthorne is more than 8,000 feet above sea level). Tieghan can’t wait for November-December though and is looking forward to another busy holiday season on her site.

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