When Tieghan Gerard started her own food blog in October of last year, she wasn't sure where it would go or how successful it would be. Now, just several months later, she has a much better idea - it's doing well. Very well. Just over the past weekend, for example, her blog received more than 20,000 visits.
That number is made all the more impressive by the fact that Gerard is only 19 years old and has never taken a cooking class. She researched and taught herself what she needed to know about the technicalities of setting up the blog and taking good photos. All the rest came from her and her passion for cooking.
"I basically started it because I love cooking," she said, and also to help out her family, which includes herself, her parents and six siblings. "I just like to help them out and I love experimenting; it's fun. Then I started reading food blogs and I was like, I should do this, maybe, and I'll give it a shot and see how it goes."
After graduating early from high school and getting an associates degree in communications from Colorado Mountain College, Gerard decided to take a break from school for a little while. She spent the summer in Los Angeles, where she considered studying fashion design, but eventually decided the big city wasn't for her and returned to Summit County.
"I spent the summer in L.A. and I was like, ugh, L.A.'s just too big, too crowded, the traffic, it's awful," she said. "I'm very simple. I just like simple things."
Starting up the blog wasn't so simple, actually.
"Writing the blog and doing it is so confusing, there's all these codes and things, it takes forever. It's a full-time job. It's so much work," she said. "People think it's like, you just make food and you take a picture, but it's really hard."
Her main challenge, she said, and one that she hadn't expected to face, was perfecting her photography skills.
"The pictures are everything," Gerard explained. "If your food looks dull or boring, it's not going to go over well."
So she bought her brother's DSLR camera and threw herself into research mode, reading books and websites about how to achieve the perfect shot, specifically with food. It took a while, but now she feels she has a good handle on it.
"Right now, you're going to think this is crazy, but I've got it down to like, 150 pictures per food," she said. "I know, it is crazy, but you can just take so many pictures and only one picture will turn out. I like to have a lot to choose from."
Many of the comments on Gerard's blog praise her photos. Each post includes an artful array of the ingredients used, some of the cooking process and then a final product shot.
"I love seeing people's reactions. That's my favorite part about cooking, is people's reactions to the food," she said.
The recipes featured on the blog usually come from her own imagination, occasionally based off of other recipes or results of sudden inspiration.
"Most of them I've adapted from some other recipe or I've just completely come up with it on my own," she said. "And if I do use someone else's recipe I credit them, but most of them are just crazy ideas that I come up with."
Gerard doesn't stick to just one meal or even one style of food, but does it all - breakfast, dinners, desserts, Asian, American, etc. Recipes she's posted include from-scratch Oreos, sweet potato parmesan tater tots, buffalo chicken quinoa salad and creamy avocado and gouda cheese pasta.
Every once in a while, a recipe won't come out just right. Gerard doesn't post these but uses them as learning experiences, tweaking and trying until she gets it the way she wants it.
"Everything's been tested," she said of her posted recipes, "and I've got a whole lot of testers."
One of her most reliable testers is her four-year-old sister, Asher.
"She's my partner in crime," Gerard said with a smile. "She loves using the mixer, rolling out dough. She's my taste-tester; she tries everything."
Unlike some cooks, Gerard said she doesn't get too fancy when it comes to the tools she uses in the kitchen. Simple is better.
"Honestly, I just have my pasta maker and my big KitchenAid standing mixer and I use it everyday," she said. "But other than that, a knife and a cutting board is really all. Pretty simple, it's really all you need."
There's more to her blog than recipes and photos of food, however.
"It's definitely not just about the food," she said. "I write about my family, about where I came up with the recipe, really anything that's going on. I feel like people don't just read your blog just for the food. I mean, sure, it's definitely about the food, but they definitely read it to get, what's the word, they like the drama, they like knowing what's going on in other people's lives. So I definitely talk about that."
Gerard said she keeps a casual, friendly tone for each of her posts. She doesn't aim for humor, necessarily, but for a conversational style, like one might have with a good friend.
"It's really more personal, like you can relate to it," she said. "It's definitely personal, which is weird because I'm not, I'm a very shy person, and it's definitely helped me grow as a person, so it's fun for sure."
Gerard's blog, titled Half Baked Harvest, can be found online at www.halfbakedharvest.com.