Videos by a Grand Forks food blogger attract worldwide audience
In his kitchen in his Grand Forks apartment, Hayden Haas creates videos to educate and to inspire people to try new things
GRAND FORKS – In a surprisingly short time, Hayden Haas has gained 500,000 followers on his TikTok account, attracting a worldwide audience with his short instructional videos on food preparation, shot in a tiny kitchen in his Grand Forks apartment.
Haas’ videos also are available on Instagram and YouTube, and he’s developing his own food blog, he said.
About 95% of the feedback he receives is “very positive,” said Haas, 29. “And people are really excited to cook and start a new relationship with food, but every once in a while you get a naysayer.”
His social media followers are 76% in the U.S., with the majority of the rest coming from Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and Mexico. He directs, edits and produces the videos himself and creates his own voice-overs for them. It takes him an average of three hours to create a video; he can create three to four videos in a typical workday.
“I try to keep my videos to a minute or less,” he said.
When Haas, a native of Grand Forks and a 2010 graduate of Sacred Heart High School, selects recipes for a video, “I think, can a child make this recipe?” he said. “Because everyone comes to the site with a different level of experience.”
One of the most popular recipes Haas has demonstrated online is a creamy sun-dried tomato and lemon pasta, he said. “It’s the most delicious pasta; I kind of invented it. It has 11 million views at the moment.”
In a recent video, he announced to viewers, “as a gift to the internet, I recreated that pasta into a soup,” he said, describing it as “a little spicy, creamy, lemon-zesty. If you’re looking to impress someone, that’s the dish to make.”
Haas receives feedback on his recipes from his father, who “is one of my best critics. He’ll say, ‘it’s not sweet enough’ or ‘there’s too much chocolate.’ Really, everyone is a taste-tester,” he said. His younger sister “is great for sweets, and my brother and I have an unhealthy addiction to pasta and savory dishes.”
When he tests a new recipe, he’ll eat one serving and give the rest to tenants in his apartment building.
Shift in course
After graduating from Sacred Heart, he studied architectural technology design at Northland Community and Technical College in East Grand Forks and took classes at UND.
He worked in architectural design for a time, “but I kind of got burned out.”
His knowledge of making blueprints has come in handy with the videos he creates, he said. “It helps you teach better, I guess you’d say.”
Haas traces his love of cooking and baking to his childhood in Wisconsin, learning alongside his mother and grandmother. “I was always in the kitchen with them.”
In the summer, time spent at his grandmother’s lake cabin included “campfire meals,” such as burgers and hot dogs, he said. “With mom, it was more traditional Midwest foods, like tater tot hotdish and frog’s eye salad.”
Molly Yeh influence
Haas “owes a lot” to Molly Yeh, the rural East Grand Forks host of the TV show “Girl Meets Farm” and cookbook author, for her encouragement in his culinary journey. He started working for her as a dishwasher and then a food stylist for her show. He has been her assistant for three years, helping her and learning from her about TV production and recipe-developing.
“The more I worked with Molly, the more opportunities opened up for me,” he said. Among his other duties, he prepares Yeh for her appearances on TV shows such as “Rachael Ray” and “The Today Show.”
He has also been able to help Yeh with another book, “Home is Where the Eggs Are,” which she plans to release this fall.
“I have the all-time favorite job,” he said. “She is the ultimate mentor. I will say it’s the best job until I go hoarse in the voice.”
In some ways, his path to food-blogger notoriety mirrors Yeh’s first steps in sharing food and recipes online with family and friends, which led to a career as a cookbook author and TV food show personality.
He also credits Lasha Oss, his former Target co-worker, for encouraging him to pursue his interest in food-blogging, he said. “I would not be in this role, if not for her.”
Based on knowledge he learned from working on Yeh’s Food Network show, he went on to figure out how to create and edit his own videos, he said. “I learned the production side of it behind the scenes and I learned recipe development from Molly.”
For his video, he focuses on making recipes from his own upbringing and his version of local restaurant favorites, such as the Toasted Frog’s cheesy fried pickles.
“I’m sharing the Midwest with the rest of the world, I guess,” he said with characteristic modesty.
He’s made videos for Target, which is shown on its Instagram page, Pacific Foods, some alcohol brands and for Lady Gaga — a pizza video to boost attention to her film “House of Gucci.”
“It’s been a roller-coaster – never thought that would ever happen in Grand Forks,” he said.
“It’s great because I get to work from home in my own little tiny kitchen, with my sweet dog.”
‘Melting pot’ of cultures
Haas is very interested in foods of different cultures.
“I make a little bit of everything,” he said, noting that, beside Yeh, he looks up to noted chefs such as Antoni Porowski and the late Anthony Bourdain. In his kitchen, his two-tiered steel supply cart holds cookbooks, including “Cravings,” by Chrissy Teigen, and “Magnolia Table,” by Joanna Gaines. The latter, signed by Gaines, was a birthday gift he received from Yeh, who has met personally with the author.
Haas has learned a lot from working with Yeh, whose heritage is Jewish and Chinese, he said. His own family background is Indigenous, German, Polish, French Canadian and Norwegian. He favors foods such as krumkake, lefse, knefla, salmon and lox.
Some viewers – probably with Polish lineage – recently took issue with his version of pierogies, objecting to his use of non-traditional ingredients, he said. But most responses to his recipes have, by far, been positive.
“I really enjoy sharing foods and recipes from my family, because that’s a great way of bonding,” he said. “Whenever you have a get-together, everybody always ends up in the kitchen – it always revolves around food. I can teach about my cultures and educate other people to try new things – and at the same time they get to know me a little bit. A lot of people have said they enjoy my demeanor and way of explaining things.”
Ultimately, he said, “My motto is, I want to make the world a better place with food.”