"Girl Meets Farm" Host Molly Yeh Shares the Most Important Lessons She's Learned from Martha
She explains how a recipe for macaroni and cheese came to mean so much more.
Martha Stewart has been a household name since the 1980s, so it's no surprise that her work and teachings have influenced people across the world. As part of our latest series, professional chefs, lifestyle experts, and even a few celebrities take part in What Martha Taught Me to reveal what they've learned from our founder, plus what they did to take their careers to the next level.
On the surface, Martha Stewart has quite a bit in common with Molly Yeh, the blogger-turned-author-turned-host of Food Network's Girl Meets Farm. They both love to cook. They've both hosted successful TV shows. They both grow their own food and raise their own animals—though, Yeh says, "My chicken are nowhere near as gorgeous as Martha's." It's fitting, then, that Yeh credits her own love for the kitchen in part to watching and learning from Martha, as well as her food-loving family. "I grew up in a house that was filled with good food," Yeh explains. "My mom was always baking and cooking…there were always yummy smells and a delicious, hearty dinner." While pursuing a music degree in New York City, Yeh discovered that creating her own recipes—and writing about them on the internet—proved even more creatively satisfying than making music. From there, she worked her way from food journalism to blogging to working in a bakery and, eventually, launching her cookbook and show.
Yeh's time in the kitchen has become much more meaningful now that she's a mother for the first time (her daughter, Bernie, was born last March). "[Motherhood] puts so much meaning into food," says Yeh. "When it's just me and I'm hungry, I'll eat a granola bar…with her, it's so much more special. We're creating food traditions for Bernie—creating wonderful memories." Read on for more on how Yeh's early exposure to Martha inspired her to do just that.
A favorite Martha recipe gave Yeh her start in the kitchen.
"One of the first recipes I ever learned how to make was Martha Stewart's mac and cheese," Yeh recalls. "I would make it with my mom…I remember sitting on the counter, grating the cheese, waiting for it to cool down, and having leftovers the next day. It appeared on every birthday, every special occasion, the day I got home from camp every year…We had the printout, all stained, in our family cookbook." Yeh got a lot more than pasta out of the deal. "So many of my current recipes are grandchildren of that recipe," she explains. "Because through that recipe, I learned how to make a roux. Because I learned how to make a roux, I was then able to make chicken pot pie, chicken and biscuits, hot dishes and homemade cream soups and casseroles…I learned not just how to make that recipe, but the mechanics of how to use those techniques."
Yeh used Martha's recipe to bond with friends.
Yeh's love of Martha's mac and cheese didn't fade when she left her family home. "In my college apartment, when I had a kitchen for the first time, it was one of the first recipes I made," Yeh says. "But I started doing my own variations on it. I'd say, 'What if, instead of butter, I use bacon fat, and then add bacon?' I tried smoked gouda with bacon, brie with apples…different noodle shapes, crunchy toppings, variations on her recipe." Yeh's affinity for the recipe led to something of ritual with her college friends: making a big pan together after a night out partying. "I remember drunkenly pouring the entire paprika container in one time, or a friend magically appearing with bacon from the bodega," Yeh recalls. "There were so many ridiculous moments that stemmed from that recipe."
Martha inspired Yeh to experiment with confidence.
Yeh's mac and cheese addiction came with a more personal takeaway, too. "It was how I discovered creativity in the kitchen," Yeh says. "It was the first moment where I thought, 'If I don't stick to the recipe, the world won't fall apart. If I do my own variation, it could create this fun new thing. I'm not going to be ruining it, just creating a different thing.'" This was huge for someone who describes her unique cooking style as "a lot of trial and error." "I get my ideas from traveling and becoming inspired by different countries, different areas…diving deeper into my Jewish and Chinese heritage, and the world of upper Midwestern cuisine," says Yeh. "It's so inspiring to me to take dishes people have been making for generations…and put my own spin on them."
Yeh admires Martha's longevity.
"I would describe Martha as regal," says Yeh. "She's created such an incredible brand, and it's all just so her. This empire, it's like an octopus—between the magazine, shows, website, and social media—and it's all so very Martha."
"I remember seeing her show when I was little, and I love that I can open up the magazine now and it's still going strong, and it's always so beautifully done," Yeh continues. "She's been a powerhouse for such a long time. The stamina that keeps the brand going is incredible. For any business to last that long and remain true to her vision—that's the dream."
Martha taught her one no-fail baking shortcut.
Sometimes, it's the smallest lessons that make the biggest impression. "I always hear Martha's voice in my head when I go to scoop my flour," says Yeh. "I hear her saying, 'You don't have to sift the flour. Just mix it a little so it's not packed down.' It was such a relief to hear that she did that…I think of her when I do it, too."