Molly Yeh Chats About Her New Cookbook, Restaurant and Why You Should Visit East Grand Forks
So much has changed for Molly Yeh since she started her food blog, My Name is Yeh, and launched her Food Network show Girl Meets Farm. Now a mother of two, Bernie and Ira, her food style has evolved from long dreamy projects to food she can cook with and for her family every day. What hasn't changed is her love for the Midwest, from growing up in a Chinese-Jewish family in Glenview, Illinois, to her current residence on her husband Nick's sugar beet farm in East Grand Forks, Minnesota. And her recipes still reflect her heritage and style.
Molly recently completed her sophomore cookbook, Home is Where the Eggs Are; opened her first restaurant, Bernie's in East Grand Forks; and is gearing up to start shooting season 13 of Girl Meets Farm in early 2023. We caught up with her to talk about her latest projects.
Congratulations on Home is Where the Eggs Are! Tell us about the process of writing this book.
With this cookbook, I was really able to live within the world of the recipes for so long [during the pandemic]. And it so happened, that Bernie was just starting to eat solid food and exploring all of that. It caused me to reflect on how food can not only be something you really enjoy eating, but also it can be a way of storytelling about ancestors and and heritage. So every holiday, every special occasion, even regular weeknight dinners is a time not just to nourish Bernie and get her to eat a vegetable, but also to partake in these traditions that I grew up with that I want her to carry on. I get really happy when she eats pot stickers because going out to eat pot stickers with my dad was one of my favorite things. Same thing with all of the Norwegian recipes. Home is Where the Eggs Are is about finding simple ways to work these recipes into everyday life and not feeling like we have to make them overly complicated.
Writing a cookbook pulling in your own food and memories and opening a restaurant in a specific region are two very different experiences. How did you develop a menu for Bernie's?
We had a very clear mission to celebrate the food of the Midwest. I wanted to focus on that and not necessarily make it about me [and my cooking]. I wanted to make it about the community, make it about the farmers and the butchers in the region, and celebrate the history and the ingredients that we get here. Figuring out a menu that fit into that mission statement was a big starting point for us. Occasionally, we might have specials that feature different flavors that aren't necessarily rooted in the Midwest, but we come back to local and seasonal ingredients.
If down the road it is super successful (fingers crossed), then yes, I would love to open up different restaurants that celebrate other types of cuisine. But for now, we want to celebrate the region.
How did you find those local ingredients and recipes?
It's been fascinating. We had a bologna tasting of tons of different versions around the region. We've tasted cheese from all over Minnesota and North Dakota. We figured out what ice cream we were going to stock by getting dozens of ice creams from the area and testing them. It's been awesome doing all of that and researching those ingredients.
I feel like there's still a lot of work to be done as far as learning about different makers in the region. It's a constant learning process. With writing a book, you have to finish the recipe, type it up, turn it into an editor and it gets printed in a physical book. But with a restaurant, the amount of tweaking that can be done is endless. So for me, that's been a learning curve because I will stay up all night just thinking, my gosh, do we need to be doing different sprinkles on the Sprinkle toast? Should we be using this type of seasonal fruit or that type? It's endless. So I know that I have a long road ahead of me in order to just maintain sanity.
I'd imagine your restaurant will draw new faces to East Grand Forks. You've always said you spend a lot of time inside on the farm, but what is there to do in Grand Forks if someone were to visit?
There are so many great restaurants, hidden gems and locally owned boutiques. We have this amazing steakhouse, Harry's Steakhouse, that opened about a year ago. Toasted Frog is also a great spot. We have multiple pizza parlors and an incredible taco place in the food court in our mall. The town puts on incredible events. We have a holiday festival and multiple outdoor ice rinks, plus ice fishing and snowmobiling, so people lean into the winter and embrace it. We have such long winters, and I love the way that people genuinely embrace the outdoors, even when it's 20 below.
You've said that hot dishes and cookie salads are staples in East Grand Forks. What's a cookie salad, and are we eating this as a main dish or a dessert?
Welcome to the conflict between me and my husband! Do we put the cookie salad next to the ham roast or do we put it out with dessert? (He is all for putting it next to the ham.) Even when we start dinner service at Bernie's, Nick has insisted on putting the cookie salad on the main menu with the other vegetable salads, and I'm into that. I think that's super quirky—but I will eat mine after the main course.
The only weird thing about cookie salad is that it's called a salad. If you get past that, it's really just a trifle. There are other dishes that people love and don't poke fun of that could technically be a cookie salad. If you look at tiramisu, it's got ladyfingers (cookies), it's got the cream and it's all mixed together. I think the fact that it's called a salad is hilarious and a great conversation piece.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.