An Alum Cooks Up A New Book
Photo: Chantell Ziegler
From the Top alum Molly Yeh (pronounced “yay!”) went to Juilliard to study percussion but came away with a love for food that has spawned a career in culinary writing. Her blog, my name is yeh, chronicles her life on a sugar-beet farm on the North Dakota-Minnesota border with her farmer husband, eggboy (a Juilliard-trained trombonist).
The following interview was conducted in October of 2016; in it, she talks about the challenges of public speaking (no babbling), balancing cooking and music, and what food she would pair with the music of famous composers!
Let’s start somewhere awesome: I read on your blog that you own a Ghengis Barbie Horn Quartet t-shirt. A) How awesome are they!? B) How do you know them?
a) Awesomer than mac and cheese
b) I am actually Dumpling Barbie! The snare drum part on their recording of Beyonce’s “Who Run The World (Girls)” is me! And yeah, I actually have two Genghis Barbie shirts which I sleep in regularly. One of them is an original homemade iron-on collector’s item from their very first show. They have very strong merch game.
Congratulations on being included in the New York Time’s Best Cookbooks of Fall 2016, that’s incredible! It must be an exciting time for you now that you’re beginning the book tour bonanza. How has the road been treating you? Were you able to bring along Eggboy?
It’s cool because I get to see all of these great people from my past, like my elementary school band teacher and tons of youth orchestra buddies. But it’s also scary because there are events where I have to stand on stage without a marimba in front of me and it just feels so… naked! Talking in front of people is so so different than playing a piece of music because with music, you practice for a bazillion hours beforehand and you know exactly what you’re going to play.
But when you’re talking about a book, people are throwing questions at you that are new and hard and you have to be careful to have good eye contact and not be boring or babbly and also not accidentally say a bad word. It’s hard.
Do you have any performances lined up while on the road, or are you able to focus on just the cookbook?
No*. I do have a recording out this fall though. Last year I played on the recording of David T Little and Royce Vavrek’s opera, Dog Days, which is one of the most hauntingly beautiful pieces I have ever known. The opera has a similar story line to Molly on the Range: people in the middle of nowhere acquiring food. But the main difference is that at the end of Dog Days everybody starves and dies. It’s a very great opera.
*(but if the orchestras in LA, SD, SF, Chicago, and Minneapolis need an assistant triangle player when I’m there they can have their people call my people.)
Eggboy has been harvesting sugar beets for the first leg of the tour but he is coming over to the west coast with me. We’re totally going to Disneyland.
Taking a step back a bit, we’re fascinated with your ability to balance your cooking and performance skills. Are there skills you learned as a musician that have come in particularly handy in the kitchen? Or maybe it’s the other way around?
As a musician, you learn how to lock yourself in a room and address your weaknesses over and over until you improve. And it’s the same thing with cooking. Cooking and playing music are both performances that, if you don’t screw em up, will bring joy to other people and that’s the best part of it.
Do you think of yourself as a musician who is also a food blogger, or a food blogger who is also a musician?
That’s like choosing a favorite kid! I do more food blogging these days but there’s so much music I want to play. Like Steve Reich’s Drumming.
What do you remember most from your From the Top experience?
My friend Dave balancing a lawn mower on his chin on the stage of Carnegie Hall before our performance of Zivkovic’s Trio Per Uno. Oh! And also meeting this boy choir backstage in Texas in like 2004 with my friend Stefani. She kept in touch with one of the members and then eight years later they kind of dated and we all found ourselves reminiscing about From the Top at a salsa club on the Lower East Side one night during what became a triumphant all-nighter that ended with one of every donut from the Donut Plant at sunrise.
Finally, it’s time for a Lightning Round! Name the first food that pops into your head that you would pair with the music of the below artists:
Johann Sebastian Bach
– Also a chicken, but a bigger more elaborate one.
– Nacho cheese
Thank you, Molly, and best wishes from the all of us at From the Top!