Merrill Stubbs is the co-founder and President of Food52, a leading innovator in the food, cooking, and home space named one of the world’s most innovative companies by Fast Company in 2020. Before starting Food52, Merrill was a writer and editor with work published in many food and lifestyle publications. She worked at America's Test Kitchen and Flour Bakery in Boston and also ran her own catering business. Merrill is the co-author of three Food52 cookbooks, her most recent being A New Way to Dinner, written with her co-founder Amanda. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself, and what inspired you to start Food52?
I grew up in a family that appreciated good food, with a mother who was a great, intuitive cook. I didn’t actually start cooking myself until my senior year in college when I worked my way through the Joy of Cooking as a way to put off writing my senior thesis. The thesis eventually got written, but by then the cooking bug had hit me hard. After a year of teaching second grade, I enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu in London and got my culinary certificate.
After a few years of working in cafes, teaching cooking classes, and running my own catering business, I decided to move back to my hometown, New York City, determined to become a food writer. I met Amanda, my business partner, less than a week after I arrived and she hired me to help her with a massive cookbook project, which took five years to complete. During that time I also wrote and developed recipes for various food publications, including the New York Times and Real Simple. Amanda and I tested more than 1400 recipes together for the book project, and as we found our groove in the kitchen and as friends, the germ of an idea for what Food52 would eventually become began to grow.
We envisioned a place where regular people who--like us--believe that food is at the center of a well-lived life, could come together -- a place where anyone could find inspiration, great recipes, how-tos, a selection of the very best tools and objects for their kitchens and homes, and a real community. That vision has been our singular focus for more than a decade.
What does your typical day look like?
These days, with no commute, I’m usually up around 7:30. I’m dressed and ready for the day by 8 unless I take 20 minutes to meditate, in which case it’s closer to 8:30. My husband gets our kids (five and eight) breakfast in the morning and has been supervising the lion’s share of their remote learning so I can make time for Zoom calls, catching up on the seemingly endless stream of email, and larger strategic projects. I try to take breaks throughout the day to exercise (I often take a walk or a short yoga class) and spend some time with the kids, whether it’s over lunch or walking our new puppy. We eat together as a family every night these days, which was rare in our pre-COVID lives, when I typically didn’t get home from the office until at least 7pm. I’m loving family dinners, as well as the hour or so leading up to them, when I’m usually cooking, the kids are playing or doing homework nearby, and I might get some time to chat with my husband. After we put the kids to bed I usually do a bit more work, and then we might watch an episode of Ozark, which is disturbingly addicting if you haven’t seen it. I’ve been trying -- with occasional success -- to turn off all screens by 11, or about an hour before I aim to go to sleep. Then I get ready for bed, try to resist the urge to check Instagram or my email or the news, and read a few pages of my book before turning off the light.
What was the worst piece of advice you’ve ever received?
“It’s not nice/polite to talk about your accomplishments.” Humility and pride can absolutely co-exist.
What does success mean to you?
To me, success means self confidence. I’m talking more about an inner confidence than something that is displayed publicly -- i.e. trusting myself to make decisions based on my personal values, and understanding that the effort and thought that go into any action are worth far more than the actual result of that action.
In moments of self-doubt or adversity, how do you build yourself back up?
When I’m feeling down or anxious about something, I often reach out to a family member or a close friend to share my feelings and ask for feedback. The combination of connecting with someone I love and hearing an outside perspective usually does the trick and puts me on a clearer path. I try to provide the same kind of support when anyone I’m close to is having a low moment.
Do you have any morning routines or evening rituals to help you stay balanced?
I don’t do it every day, but I try to meditate right after waking up a few days per week. Similarly, I like to take a hot bath several evenings a week; I usually use my homemade bath salts (tea tree, eucalyptus, and lemongrass is my current favorite blend of essential oils) and some sweet almond oil to moisturize my skin.
What’s your current favourite Food 52 recipe?
We’ve recently instituted a weekly pizza night at our house, and this is my go-to pizza dough recipe. It’s easy and SO flavorful!
Where can we find you?
@merrillstubbs on Instagram
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