One Hot Mama: Jaden Hair is steaming up the kitchen and the airwaves with her one-woman Asian food empire.
ISSUE: Spring 2010
STORY: Jimmy Lee
Like her mother, Jaden Hair is making friends through food. Except the community that Jaden has fostered around her blog, Steamykitchen.com, far outnumbers the social network her mom built for herself in North Platte, Neb., even though she didn’t speak English. After the family immigrated to the heartland from Hong Kong when Jaden was 4, her mom communicated through cooking. “She would teach her neighbors how to make fried rice,” says Jaden, “and they would teach her how to make apple pie.”
Now a 21st-century version of the American dream is coming to fruit for the 37-year-old wife and mother of two: more than 34,000 Twitter followers; a new cookbook with the namesake of her blog; a column for the Tampa Tribune and Discovery’s TLC cable network; appearances on the morning shows of CBS and NBC; and No. 6 in the top 10 “Hottest Women in the Food Industry,” as chosen by the website Slash Food.
Jaden, a self-taught cook, has tempted and won over thousands with the Chinese dishes of her childhood, as well as other Asian cuisine and a growing number of recipes from other parts of the world. “She makes everything simple. It’s not too hard or intimidating,” says Manouschka Guerrier, a fan who happened to shop in the Los Angeles Sur La Table store where Jaden was holding a cooking demonstration last November. “And she’s funny.”
Behind the bubbly personality is a fiercely driven entrepreneur with a steadily expanding enterprise. “After the blog became popular, I just said, ‘I’m going to make this a business because this is really fun. I’m going to write a business plan around Steamy Kitchen, and be smart about how to do things because this isn’t a hobby anymore,’” says Jaden.
Yet it all might not have come to be if she hadn’t chosen to move her family from San Francisco to Bradenton, Fla., in 2002 and ended up in a local restaurant, in which she overheard a woman say: “I’m having sushi at the Chinese restaurant.”
“I flipped,” recalls Jaden. “Man, this sucks. So my husband said, ‘Do something about it.’” So she offered to teach classes at a local cooking school for free, with subjects such as the difference between Japanese and Chinese food. It’s been all uphill since then.
Audrey Magazine: How did the blog start?
Jaden Hair: I started writing my recipes on 3-by-5 cards, but I would lose them. Then I would start typing my recipes in my computer, but then my hard drive would crash. So there’s got to be a better way, and the better way was a blog. I started reading other people’s blogs, and they came to my blog, and that’s how I started to become part of the community. That’s when things started really happening.
AM: You didn’t have any problems transitioning to writing about food?
JH: The part I really had to work on was measuring and being precise, because I’m not a precise person. I’m a little chaotic; that’s how my husband calls it. I call it bursts of brilliance [laughs].
AM: I assume the Chinese recipes you get from your mother don’t have precise measurements. How do you communicate to get the recipes?
JH: I don’t speak Chinese and she still doesn’t speak much English, but we communicate about food. It’s always about sharing recipes. A lot of the baking stuff she learned from her friends, [like] banana bread and apple pie, you do have to use measurements. But it’s hard for her to measure. [My mom would say,] “Oh just put some soy sauce in.” “How much?” “Just some.” So I have to figure out her recipes sometimes, and I’ll re-interpret them differently, and make them my own, with exact measurements.
AM: Were there any “That’s not how I do my recipe!” reactions then?
JH: She did. She goes, “I don’t make my egg rolls with pork, I make it with chicken!” And I’m just like, “You said meat! You said meat!”
AM: The criticisms still find a way to come out.
JH: Of course, it’s the Asian mom. But now she gets what I do. It has brought us a lot closer together. Now she goes to the bookstore, and she’s like, “That’s my daughter.” And I walked into a bookstore with her and we saw the book together, and that was like the ultimate, ultimate moment.