Balloons and confetti drop from the ceiling on the set of The Rachael Ray Show, and 22-year-old Iowa State senior Madison Mayberry’s mouth drops open in joy and disbelief.
She’s just won a trip to Paris and a $60,000 kitchen makeover for turning Thanksgiving leftovers into potato turkey pancakes with sweet pea gravy. Plus she’s just found an excellent item to put on her resume when she goes in search of food editing internships: “Winner, Rachael Ray Show’s ‘Hey, Can You Cook?’”
Hey, she can cook.
Five years after winning the Rachael Ray contest, Madison Mayberry (’09 journalism) works as a food editor – the job of her dreams, she says – and a lot of her success can be traced back to the day her friend rented video equipment from ISU’s Greenlee School and sent a video of her making veggie blueberry pasta in the Alpha Gamma Delta kitchen to food media queen Ray. Since being selected for the original “Hey, Can You Cook?” competition, Mayberry landed an internship at Better Homes & Gardens magazine, launched the blog “Espresso and Cream,” worked in two food editor gigs for Meredith Corporation, appeared on Ray’s “Hey, Can You Cook? All-Stars,” and, in January 2013, started working in Minneapolis as a food editor for General Mills.
It’s all a dream come true for the little girl from Orange City, Iowa, who used to throw random ingredients into a blender, feed them to the dog, and pretend she was doing it all for the readers of a glossy magazine or cookbook.
“My mom was a saint, because she never discouraged me,” Mayberry says. “I’m sure plenty of times it wasn’t very good. I just decided early on to throw out the recipe book and give it a go.”
Today, Mayberry is a walking encyclopedia of recipes, cook times, and measurements. Her jobs have required her to write recipes, have them taste-tested by food professionals, and organize them into articles for publication. And when her recipes aren’t going into a magazine, they’re going on her blog.
“I’ve been [blogging] for about three years,” Mayberry says. “I just wanted a creative outlet, because I realized that when you work in magazines you end up creating a lot of content that someone else tells you to create. So I decided I wanted something that was just for me – where I could have all my recipes in one place.”
The result is Espresso and Cream, which Mayberry says has just about as many social benefits as creative.
“I feel like it’s helped me meet other people in food who have similar passions,” she says. “It’s not often that you find twentysomethings who really like to cook and really like to be in the kitchen, so I’ve met a lot of other girls who are a lot like me.”
Mayberry says she’s dragged her husband on several “blogger dates,” in which she’s had the opportunity to meet in person the friends she’s made through blogging; creating her blog and reading others’ blogs is something to which Mayberry says she devotes several hours per week.
“You can’t discount bloggers,” she says. “You have a group out there that’s going to buy products they recommend and read books they publish. You have to take notice of that, and I think the publishing industry has. But there’s a time and place for tried-and-true, tested recipes, and that’s where publishing comes in.”
Mayberry says her employers have always been supportive of her blog, and she says being part of the blogosphere has made her a better editor. She says she recently evaluated the amount of time she devotes to her blog and where it may go next. (“For anybody who invests a lot of time into a blog, it would be crazy for them not to say they’d like to become one of those blogger success stories,” she says.)
Back in the kitchen, Mayberry says she has special affinities for vegetables, peanut butter, and baking – but she does it all. A vegetarian married to a meat eater who has developed recipes for everything from Southern breakfasts to fancy appetizers, she has always had to be versatile in her cuisine.
“I’m a really simple cook,” she says. “I usually eat more vegetables than seems humanly possible. Although I enjoy creating the decadent desserts and cheese-filled recipes, we try to eat really healthy at home.”
Mayberry says she thinks the Internet has made quality food more accessible to the masses and encouraged more people to get into the kitchen.
“I think, in the past, in order to be seen as worthy and sort of high brow, you had to use a bunch of gourmet ingredients,” she says. “But I think now food has shifted to more casual, more homey ingredients. People just want food that makes them feel good. Not food that makes them intimidated or scared.”