Amy Thielen is always cooking. Recipe creation, recipe experimentation, recipe testing. A chef, cookbook author and host of her own Food Network show “Heartland Table,” her accolades don’t get in the way of the simple home cooking she showcases. You may be surprised to realize that her show is filmed at her home, a rustic cabin in Two Inlets, Minnesota. Thielen shares what goes on behind the scenes of Heartland Table. The second season debuts tomorrow, March 8.
Our nearest neighbors are a mile away. You can’t even hear their dog bark. Around here we drive a lot, so you become accustomed to it. The nearest grocery store is 25 miles away. In the summer we have such a big garden that my grocery list is literally just butter, lemon and oatmeal. But in the winter I go to the grocery store almost every day.
We shoot the show in my actual kitchen. My husband is a sculptor and builder, and he actually built this cabin in 1994. It was his parent’s land and he really wanted this to be his project. We also have a production kitchen where we prep, make extra food and clean dishes.
We start around seven in the morning. The crew would get lighting and cameras set up, I’d do my makeup and I’d be ready to go by 7:30. It varies, but we typically do two episodes per day. We did six episodes for season two.
It’s a crowded kitchen. There are 15-20 people on the set including a culinary producer, her assistant and two kitchen helpers. Sometimes the culinary team has to prepare things halfway or do a swap out of dishes that require more than 30 minutes of cooking time.
You really see it happen in an episode. My show was designed to get down in the pan and see the process from start to finish.
It’s kind of a blur when it happens. I don’t think about it I just do it. It’s still outside of my daily routine. It’s a long day so towards the end you get tired.
I would say the disruption of the family life is the most difficult, especially on my son. I’m always thinking, is he alright? He has to go to school today. We moved into a friend’s nearby cabin just so we could get out of the house.
I’m always coming up with recipes. I don’t feel right unless I’m cooking. Everything I make I write down. Then once I perfect a recipe, I am ready to move on to something new. My family eats a lot of experiments.
Things don’t always turn out great but you make changes and that’s what cooking is about. Especially in the recipe experimentation, there are bound to be mistakes and that’s why you want to get to a recipe that is foolproof.
I made an apple cider scone cake 8 times this week. In the end it tasted really delicious but I am ready to be done with it. I had to eat it several times when it was warm, tepid and the next day to see how the flavor changes.
Often baked goods require more testing. Some of the bars in my book required 12 passes. Soups I could nail in 3 passes. For my book I sent them out to professional testers, so that I could have them tested in another kitchen with someone’s ingredients and preferences.
I visited Atlanta once and want to go back. I didn’t get a chance to go anywhere because I spent 2 days in serious concentration making an enormous wedding cake for a friend. I did have Chick Fil A for the first time.
I sat next to John Kessler at the James Beard awards and I was really nervous because my cookbook was up for an award. My fork fell off the table and John caught it mid-air! He was a great seat companion.