Lights, camera, action — eat!
UND connections featured in Molly Yeh’s Food Network Girl Meets Farm TV show
Fans of the Food Network’s Girl Meets Farm TV show starring Molly Yeh — a nationally recognized food blogger and cookbook author — will see some University of North Dakota faces and places during two episodes to be aired in the coming months.
“I think it’s incredible for the community that Molly’s doing this TV show here and showing off Grand Forks, her friends and acquaintances,” said Andy Schneider, a former UND hockey player and graduate, who will appear on the show next month. “It’s just great for our area to have a little publicity.”
In its third season, much of Yeh’s show is recorded on the sugar beet farm north of East Grand Forks, Minn., where she and her husband Nick Hagen live and work with their new baby girl, Bernie. Yeh prepares recipes in her homey country kitchen, then serves them for the enjoyment of family, friends and visitors. Girl Meets Farm airs on Sundays at 10 a.m. Central Time.
Cookie pucks for UND hockey
On the Feb. 2 episode – the morning of Super Bowl Sunday – Yeh hosts a party at her home to watch a UND Fighting Hawks hockey game on TV. She makes and serves crispy chicken sandwiches, homemade noodles and chocolate-mint sandwich cookies shaped like hockey pucks. Her guests include former UND hockey players and Olympic gold medalists Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando, as well as Schneider and his wife, Heather.
“We have had the opportunity to be around Molly a few times over the past two years, and it’s amazing to see her growth in her career and family in that time frame, all the while doing it with her home base in East Grand Forks,” said Lamoureux-Morando. “She deserves all the success in the world. It is always encouraging to see great people doing great things, and we were excited to be a part of something special she is doing.”
In late December, a segment for another episode scheduled to air in the spring was shot on UND’s campus in a band practice room at the Hughes Fine Arts Center. Hagen, who met Chicago native Yeh when they were both student musicians at the Julliard School in New York, practiced with the UND Trombone Choir directed by Joel Pugh. The practice ended with Hagen serving eight student musicians peanut butter bars baked by Yeh.
“The treats were really good,” said Ben Pfeiffer, a freshman from Jamestown, N.D., majoring in music education. “I liked that they were chocolatey and peanut buttery. They were really delicious.”
Pugh, the low-brass instrument instructor in UND’s Department of Music, was equally impressed.
“I’ve had some of Molly’s food before, but I’m partial to peanut butter,” he said. “These bars took peanut butter to a different level.”
Treats for UND ‘s Trombone Choir
Pugh has known Hagen since he was a student attending high school at nearby East Grand Forks. Not long after Hagen and Yeh moved from New York to the Hagen family farm on the North Dakota-Minnesota border in 2012, Pugh asked Hagen if he was interested in playing with UND’s Trombone Choir. He was, and Hagen’s been a regular ever since.
“He’ll come in from right out of the fields with mud on his boots,” Pugh said of Hagen’s commitment to the group. “He picks up his horn and sounds like a Julliard graduate from New York City. He’s a wonderful example for the students. He’s very selfless and as great a trombone player as there is.”
In fact, Pugh said that the piece the UND Trombone Choir played during the Girl Meets Farm videotaping was written for the occasion by world-renowned composer Eric Ewazen, a composer in residence at Julliard.
Noting that it’s unusual for a school UND’s size to have a trombone choir, Pugh said part of the experience is playing at international events and learning from some of the best trombonists in the world.
“This is an awesome experience,” said Gabby Halliday, a junior music major from Grand Forks, who considers Hagen a mentor. “I’ve been playing with Nick and the trombone choir for several years now. It’s great to have him come in and see this other side of his life. To be included in it, we’re so lucky. It’s so fun.”
Getting to know Molly Yeh
Schneider, who was a defenseman on UND’s hockey team from 2001 to 2005 and now co-owns Dakota TV & Appliance with his brother Toby, is making his second appearance on Girl Meets Farm.
“The food’s always incredible,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I agree to do it. It’s also kind of fun to be around, just to see what it takes to make the show go. It’s very impressive. Where else would you get a chance to see something like that if you’re not in the industry?”
But it’s not his hockey or business connections that got Schneider on the show. His wife Heather has been friends with Yeh for years and has been on Girl Meets Farm numerous times.
Heather was running the kitchen at a former downtown Grand Forks restaurant and food co-op, Amazing Grains, when she first met Yeh, then a food blogger. Later, Heather became the chef at the North Dakota Museum of Art on UND’s campus while Yeh began work on her “Molly on the Range” cookbook.
Heather saw an ad Yeh ran for an assistant to help with the book. She considered applying, but felt that between her job and being a new mother, she had more than enough to keep her busy. A friend persisted in encouraging her to apply for the job.
“I’d always wanted to see Molly’s kitchen,” Heather recalled. “I thought maybe if I applied, I could get an interview and see the kitchen. So I went in for an interview and saw the kitchen. We sat down at her dining room table and talked for like two hours. We just connected instantly. And I thought, ‘I need to do this.’”
A recipe for success
She also knew from that moment on that Yeh was destined for greater accomplishments.
“I remember coming home and saying to Andy, ‘She’s going to be a big deal,’ Heather recalled. “You just knew it when you met her. She has this intangible thing.”
Heather helped Yeh finish her cookbook and is listed in the acknowledgements. More recently, she started her own business, Joy Full Foods, a subscription food service providing fresh, healthy meals. She also caters lunches at the Hagen farm when the Food Network sends crews to videotape Girl Meets Farm. Much of what looks like a typical Red River Valley farm home from the outside has been transformed inside to a studio for the show.
“There are all these camera and light guys — they’re everywhere!” Heather said. “You see Molly’s mother-in-law outside and her father-in-law across the road riding the tractor. There’s a genuineness to it that comes out in the show. If it was in Los Angeles, you wouldn’t have that.
“That’s what’s making Molly so successful,” she continued “It’s because it’s real; it’s true. That’s her home.”
This also comes through with places and events in the Grand Forks area featured on Girl Meets Farm, such as the recent Christmas show in which Yeh and her family attended the annual HollyDazzle Festival Lights, parade and fireworks show in downtown Grand Forks. The guests on the show aren’t merely extras, they’re people Yeh knows, according to Heather.
Keeping it real
“Molly wants people who are really in her life,” she explained. “She’s staying true to her story. You never know who you’re going to see on the show.”
Heather related that being friends with Yeh, who travels around the world, appears on other Food Network TV shows and has been the subject of national media stories, has enabled her to live vicariously through her experiences, as well as learn more about food and cooking. Throughout their friendship, she said Yeh has remained modest about her success.
“I remember we were out for lunch one day and she just casually mentioned that Food Network had been reaching out to her,” Heather related. “I’m like, ‘What? Your own show?’ She wasn’t sure she should do it, but she took it on. Seeing her manage all this and filming in her home, it’s a lot, and she does it so well. She was meant to do it. Most people couldn’t handle that stress and that pressure, but she does.”
All those who’ve been involved with Girl Meets Farm agree that having UND and the greater Grand Forks area featured on a Yeh’s television show is a positive event.
“My best friend and I watch it when we can,” Halliday said. “Sometimes I see people I know. It’s great to have Grand Forks represented in such a national way. It’s so cool.”