Half Baked Harvest's Tieghan Gerard Addresses Her Critics in Wide-Ranging Interview: 'It's Time' (Exclusive)

The popular food blogger opens up about facing accusations of cultural appropriation and recipe copying, as well as comments about her weight

<p>Eugene Gologursky/Getty</p>

Eugene Gologursky/Getty

Tieghan Gerard, the creator of the highly popular food blog Half Baked Harvest, has more than 5.5 million followers on Instagram and 786K followers on TikTok, but she makes one thing clear: "I'm not a scroller."

"I've always been really good about that," she tells PEOPLE over the phone from her family's compound in Colorado. "To be honest, I really don't spend a lot of time on social media other than to work."

That said, Gerard, 30, is aware of the criticism she gets online, whether allegations of cultural appropriation or comments about her weight.

"I'm excited for the opportunity to speak, because I've always chosen not to," she tells PEOPLE exclusively. "I think that has served me well, but I also think it's time. I started this business at 18; I am now 30 years old. I am a totally different person. I am a different person than I was a year ago. I am constantly growing and learning."

A key impetus behind Gerard wanting to speak out now is a 2023 New York Times profile written about her titled "The Star of Half Baked Harvest Inspires Loyalty — and Controversy." Gerard stayed quiet following its publication — but it's still one of the top hits when you search her name.

"I think you really need to remember to trust your gut, because in that instance, I should have trusted myself," she says of doing the interview with the Times. "From day one, something didn't feel good about it to me. I invited [the writer] here to Colorado into my home. It was more than a year-long process, and I was speaking with her and it was always seen in the light of positivity and highlighting the recipes and cookbooks I've written. It was really misleading."

"It's sad, but I moved on, because what else are you going to do?" adds Gerard.

In response, The New York Times tells PEOPLE in a statement: "We disagree with Ms. Gerard’s characterization of our profile. Our reporting strives to be fair and we do not make promises about our coverage being 'positive.'"

Related: Half Baked Harvest's Tieghan Gerard Is Being Treated 'Privately' for Anxiety, Says It Makes Her Forget to Eat

When Gerard first started her blog in 2012, she never imagined it would evolve into the monolith of a business it is today.

Back then, "I was a timid, very shy 18-year-old who was out of school, lost in what I want to do with my life," she says. "I picked something to do and I ran with it, and I worked my ass off, day in and day out, on that website and building a community that is truly so loving. I know that we're talking about the haters and the naysayers right now, but I mean, that's the smallest group of people. They just, unfortunately, make the most noise."

<p>Stefanie Keenan/Getty</p> Tieghan Gerard at her cookbook launch in 2022

Stefanie Keenan/Getty

Tieghan Gerard at her cookbook launch in 2022

A self-described "introvert," Gerard says "anybody who knew me growing up, I don't think would ever have guessed that this is what I would be doing."

"I still, to this day, have mass amounts of anxiety and stress, and I hold a lot of things with me," she says. "I have learned tools to cope with them, make things easier, push through them. But I'm definitely the type of person that wants to show up, not only for the people that I'm sharing recipes for or the community, but also for myself."

When Gerard was a kid, she always imagined she'd work in fashion. "I lived and breathed it," she says.

Related: Half Baked Harvest's Tieghan Gerard Responds to 'Negative Comments' About Her Weight

She was largely influenced by her grandma. "She was my best friend, and we did everything together when I was younger," she says. "She loved to shop. She loved to go to lunch, she loved to go to dinner, all of the things. I was fortunate enough to get to tag along with her, and we would do everything together from going to the gardening store to the mall to the Prada store. The woman really knew how to make a gorgeous collection over the years."

Gerard went to fashion school in Los Angeles for design and merchandising when she was 18, but she quickly realized it "was just too early for me" to be so far from home.

"That's when I came home and started the website, because my mother encouraged me to do so," she says.

Along with fashion, cooking had long been a passion of Gerard's. As a kid, she would often help her mom out with dinners for their growing family. (Gerard is one of eight children.)

"Love my family, but it was chaos when I was a kid," she says. "My dad worked 9 to 5. My mom had her hands full with the kids, including me. We would have chocolate chip cookies before dinner, and we'd be eating anywhere between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. at night. I just started cooking. I think I had watched an episode of Rachael Ray back when 30-Minute Meals was on, and she made this cheeseburger mac and cheese. I made the dish, and my brother loved it. I just kind of kept going and never stopped."

Related: Jennifer Garner and Her Mom Demonstrate the ‘Grandmom Corn’ Recipe That Jennifer ‘Grew Up on’ and Her Kids Now Love

Gerard acknowledges it hasn't always been a perfect journey, and she owns up to mispronouncing certain dishes and foods, something she has been called out for over the years.

"I grew up in a small town and, yes, I definitely pronounce things incorrectly," she says. "I will full-on own that. I have a very difficult time with that. There's learning disabilities involved. I'm not trying to disrespect a culture or anything like that. I'm just trying to share good foods."

She hasn't officially been diagnosed with a learning disability, but says dyslexia and ADHD run in her family.

"Sometimes I read things and it's literally right in front of me and I'm completely saying something totally different," she says. "I have a hard time with my left and rights — let's put it that way. I also can't spell for the life of me."

Gerard denies past allegations of cultural appropriation. In 2021, she renamed a recipe "Easy sesame chicken and noodles in spicy broth" after receiving backlash for calling it "Weeknight ginger chicken pho ga" without incorporating the traditional Vietnamese methods of making pho.

"At the end of the day, you really got to remember I'm just a home cook like everybody else sharing recipes," she says. "That includes cuisines from around the world because I, like everyone else when they're cooking, can get a little bit bored. I love exotic flavors. I'm not claiming to be an expert, and I never have claimed to be an expert."

<p>John Lamparski/Getty</p> Tieghan Gerard on May 2, 2024

John Lamparski/Getty

Tieghan Gerard on May 2, 2024

As for the accusations that she's copied recipes from other bloggers, she calls them "mind-boggling."

"I fully believe I have never copied a recipe," she says. "That's just insane. I've loved elements of recipes, absolutely. I didn't ever use salsa verde until I saw someone using it, and now I use salsa verde in so many recipes. But have I copied recipes? No. I actually try not to look at anybody else's recipes."

"I mean, there's five million broccoli cheddar soup recipes on the internet," she continues. "So, yeah, mine probably looks pretty similar to somebody else's. I'm not claiming to be the inventor of any of these."

Instead, Gerard focuses on making a dish her own, through rustic styling and photography, which she has become known for. She goes back to her lack of scrolling.

"I don't follow a lot of food content as is. I really don't follow any for the reason of, I don't want to be influenced by other people's recipes," she says.

She prefers to get inspiration from her "family, the seasons, travel," she says.

Another common allegation in Gerard's comment section is that she has an eating disorder. She says the speculation has thrown her "off guard for such a long time."

"At the end of the day, body shaming is body shaming," she says. "That is just, I think, a really horrible thing to ever do on the internet. I really don't have much to say on that one because I think it is really sad, and no one should ever be commenting on somebody else's body. Body shaming of any kind isn't right. End of story."

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Gerard says a guiding light through all of the negativity has been listening to podcasts. "I know that sounds so ridiculous, but there's just so many that I've listened to over the years that have really inspired me," she says.

She's also thankful for her family and friends, including her frequent collaborator Benny Blanco.

"Benny and one other really, really good friend, always tell me that if you don't have a haters, you're not doing anything right," she says. "Benny slid into my DMs about a year and a half ago, and ever since then, he's been such a great friend, constantly giving me advice, especially business advice. I know he comes off as this silly guy on the internet, but he really is a wealth of knowledge."

In the coming months, Gerard says her followers can expect her to branch out even further into the lifestyle space. She also has a new cookbook coming out in November and teases that she has another restaurant collaboration on the way (from April to May, a limited edition Half Baked Harvest menu was served at the Fairmont Miramar's FIG restaurant in Santa Monica, Calif.).

<p>John Lamparski/Getty</p> Nadia Caterina Munno, Benny Blanco and Tieghan Gerard on May 2, 2024

John Lamparski/Getty

Nadia Caterina Munno, Benny Blanco and Tieghan Gerard on May 2, 2024

"There's still so much that I want to do," she says.

But her immediate goal is simple: "I want to bring value to people's lives. I want to bring joy. There's no harm behind anything that I'm ever trying to do," she says. "At the end of the day, you can feel so tired and so exhausted and sometimes so defeated because it was a hard day. But I get up and do it all over again because one, I'm insane, and two, because I love it."

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