Tieghan Gerard was busy lighting pumpkin spice-scented candles once I arrived at her sunlit studio this month. After greater than a yr of negotiations with the representatives who guard her schedule and her picture, she’d agreed to cook dinner two recipes I’d chosen from the hundreds on her immensely fashionable recipe website, Half Baked Harvest.
As an alternative, her staple white rooster chili simmered in a pumpkin-shaped Dutch oven. She sliced apples and toasted pumpkin seeds for her fall harvest salad earlier than shifting on to her favourite a part of the method: arranging the shot. She tucked and pulled the greens, fanned out the apples so that they appeared plush and dotted the shiny seeds on prime.
“I’ve all the time been concerning the visuals,” she stated of her recipe-development course of. “I work backward from how I would like it to look.”
Since 2012, Ms. Gerard has revealed a brand new recipe on Half Baked Harvest almost every single day, every illustrated by dozens of images and movies that she shoots right here within the hilltop compound the place she additionally lives. This fireplace hose of latest content material retains her followers — 5.4 million on Instagram alone — well-fed and dependable. Celebrities like Gigi and Bella Hadid, Emma Roberts and Blake Vigorous prolonged her attain in the course of the pandemic, with posts about cooking her recipes at residence.
From the start, her recipes — a lot of them tacky, crispy, creamy or a mixture — hit a candy spot between approachable and aspirational. She burrowed into it, thanking and responding to followers across the clock.
“I really feel like I grew up along with her,” stated Tina Nowak, 34, who stated she typically makes use of all three Half Baked Harvest cookbooks in her kitchen outdoors Chicago.
However Ms. Gerard has additionally change into an unwilling lightning rod for controversy, entangled in points which have galvanized the meals world within the final decade: cultural appropriation, mental property, physique shaming, privilege and racism.
Half Baked Harvest started as a chronicle of the massive household dinners Ms. Gerard cooked for her dad and mom, brothers and sisters — her seven siblings vary in age from 3 to 38. Her intense productiveness, paired with lifelong anxieties which have saved her close to household, helped her construct one of many meals world’s most persistently profitable platforms.
“I like the work, and I’ve to be artistic,” as a result of she spends a lot of her life at residence, she stated.
Eleven years later, a lot stays the identical for Ms. Gerard, who turned 30 final month. She has lived right here since she was 14, other than a short try at trend faculty in Los Angeles that was minimize quick by homesickness. Her mom, Jen, 57, nonetheless runs the enterprise facet of Half Baked Harvest from her home just a few hundred yards up the hill. She nonetheless doesn’t prefer to drive, and he or she hasn’t traveled outdoors North America besides to observe her brother, the Olympic snowboarder Red Gerard, win a gold medal on the 2018 Video games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
And Ms. Gerard’s recipes are nonetheless important cooking for hundreds of girls residing between America’s coasts, together with her 700,000 day by day e mail subscribers and the greater than two million readers of her cookbooks. The 25- to 44-year-old ladies who make up her core demographic are nonetheless fiercely loyal; she stated that 60 p.c of subscribers open her publication every single day, a stunningly excessive quantity.
However simply as a lot has modified. Ms. Gerard, who’s white, has lengthy been referred to as out for mispronouncing dishes from different cultures and misidentifying her creations, like calling tacos with pineapple “Hawaiian” and noodles with honey and peanut butter “Chinese language.”
However the objections have intensified since 2021, when she posted a recipe for “pho” that was wildly unrelated to the Vietnamese dish, and plenty of longtime followers spoke out about her sample of disrespecting meals from nonwhite cultures. She apologized, promising to “do extra analysis.”
When it occurred once more final March, this time with a “banh mi rice bowl,” the pushback was so robust that it was covered by NBC News. Ms. Gerard apologized once more. (Each recipes stay on the location, with tweaked titles.)
“I believe she is considerably ignorant about different cultures, however in a sincerely manner,” stated Andrea Nguyen, a Vietnamese American meals skilled, who stated she sympathized with the relentless demand for brand new content material and praised Ms. Gerard’s work ethic. “In a great world, her errors would encourage individuals to do extra analysis and fewer name-calling.”
Simply this month, Ms. Gerard revealed a “Thai” beef stew sweetened with pomegranate juice, an ingredient conventional in Center Japanese cooking.
“I believe she’s an amazing meals stylist,” stated Hannah Selinger, who writes about meals and eating places. “However why isn’t she extra all for meals, and why does she get a seat on the desk when there are such a lot of individuals who truly know these things?”
Detractors have additionally flooded her remark sections when fellow bloggers, like Gaby Dalkin of What’s Gaby Cooking and Adrianna Guevara Adarme of A Cozy Kitchen, publicly accused Ms. Gerard of copying their recipes. Her recipes and persona have generated a lot on-line battle that many of the sources I contacted refused to go on the report.
Ms. Gerard characterised her missteps as respectful enthusiasm for flavors from different cultures. Her critics say she enjoys unearned privilege due to her wealth and whiteness; she says she has labored exhausting for a decade to earn her following and success. They are saying she has no explicit cooking abilities and posts the identical recipes over and over; she says she meets her readers the place they’re.
When Ms. Gerard started Half Baked Harvest on WordPress in 2012, Instagram was solely two years previous, and he or she was a 19-year-old with a pictures passion.
Few knew then simply how a lot Instagram, YouTube and different visible media would decide what the world needed to eat. From the beginning, Ms. Gerard’s dishes, photographed in heat, high-altitude gentle, appeared bountiful and exquisite — and selfmade.
“I felt like I didn’t must know lots about cooking to have the ability to do what she did,” stated Erica Vargas, a longtime Half Baked Harvest fan.
At first, residence cooks — particularly the massive cohort of millennials who have been simply beginning their very own households — have been drawn to her household life as a lot as to her recipes. Not like different domestic goddesses like Ina Garten and Joanna Gaines, Ms. Gerard was younger, single and a proudly inexpert cook dinner. Her dad and mom spent little time within the kitchen when she was rising up, she stated. Unable to tolerate the nightly chaos that was dinnertime, she began doing the cooking herself.
She discovered how totally from the web. The place Julia Little one studied with skilled cooks, and Martha Stewart constructed her empire on a catering enterprise, Ms. Gerard cites restaurant menus and different meals web sites as her culinary inspiration. Her studio kitchen holds six KitchenAid mixers, however no cookbooks. (KitchenAid, amongst different firms, sponsored the constructing of her studio.)
Her breakthrough second got here in 2017, when Anthropologie, the style and life-style retailer, started stocking her first cookbook. Her most up-to-date e book, “Half Baked Harvest Every Day,” revealed in 2022 in the course of the pandemic, spent 33 weeks on the New York Instances best-seller listing.
Ms. Gerard is a daily on “Good Morning America” and “As we speak,” has her personal line of candles, touts beauty manufacturers and not too long ago collaborated with Dwelling Chef, the meal-kit supply service owned by Kroger.
However she additionally devotes appreciable assets to the persistent on-line critics who parse her likes, scour her images and analyze her physique language. Ms. Gerard now has 4 full-time and two part-time workers; a part of their job is to delete unfavourable feedback throughout her weblog and social media accounts, creating a web-based echo chamber the place she feels secure.
“I observe individuals who make me really feel good,” she stated. She dismisses most criticism of her as “web hate” and stated the overwhelming majority of her viewers are followers.
On Reddit, the place her employees can not reasonable conversations, nameless commenters publish detailed theories about her motivations and internal demons to a weekly “snark” thread devoted to her. This month, members of the FoodieSnark subreddit monitored geotags in Chicago to trace what number of followers confirmed up at a promotional look for her new pumpkin-spice candle.
“Folks have kindly referred to as her out and not-so kindly referred to as her out,” stated Hanna, a contributor to the thread who declined to supply her surname with a purpose to keep away from on-line harassment. “At this level it’s weird that she by no means appears to take accountability or study from her errors.”
The criticism that bothers Ms. Gerard most is extra private: that beneath all the melted cheese and creamy sauces, she is concealing a persistent consuming dysfunction. Day after day, followers — some with concern, others with vitriol — accuse her of peddling high-fat, high-calorie meals whereas by no means consuming it herself.
Ms. Gerard stated she doesn’t have an consuming dysfunction however has lengthy suffered from social anxiousness and separation anxiousness. She stated that she is treating these “privately,” and that she calms herself with lengthy hours of labor, typically forgetting to eat and sleep.
Her mom, additionally a small and intense lady, stated the fixed on-line dialogue of Ms. Gerard’s physique feels sexist and judgmental. “It’s unlucky that folks really feel entitled to touch upon somebody being underweight, once they would by no means do this if the particular person was obese,” she stated.
Regardless of her success within the meals world, Ms. Gerard is now attempting to elbow her manner out of it. She constructed Half Baked Harvest on a homespun, rustic picture, however now she wears Bottega Veneta cashmere sweaters, promotes $500 red-light anti-aging masks and posts breathlessly from runway reveals at New York Trend Week.
The Half Baked Harvest website is not solely a vacation spot for recipes, as Ms. Gerard tirelessly posts hyperlinks to garments, jewellery and lodges, luring guests to linger inside her bubble. “I would like these clickbacks,” she stated firmly. “TikTok might go away any minute. I don’t personal Instagram, however the website is all mine.”
The approaching holidays are her favourite time of yr — and the busiest time for her website: In accordance with Jen Gerard, November and December every herald 23 million to 25 million web page views. However Tieghan Gerard dreads the technical questions they all the time deliver, like easy methods to safely defrost a turkey or easy methods to modify a recipe based mostly on high-altitude cooking. (Silverthorne is greater than 8,000 toes above sea degree.)
“How would I do know that?” she stated. “I’m not Google.”
Audio produced by Tally Abecassis.