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Whether you recognize Meredith Hayden’s name or not is irrelevant—you’re probably being influenced by her. The former Hamptons private chef-turned-social media star doesn’t only know the chicest holiday trends for 2023, she sets them. Look no further than the shrimp tree: Hayden singlehandedly ushered the retro fad into 2023 with two TikTok videos seen by over 12 million people.
It took only a few days for crustacean-laden conifers to become the season’s trendiest centerpiece. A holiday appetizer popular in the ’70s, the shrimp tree combines kitschy presentation with utility: cocktail shrimp are strung by pins from a kale or rosemary cone base often topped with a bow. They’re clever and novel for the newly-initiated, nostalgic for others, and can be executed with sophistication or humor. In other words, they exemplify Hayden’s brand, Wishbone Kitchen.
Hayden is earnestly building a lifestyle empire that feels like a friend group. Between her TikTok, Instagram, website, and newsletter followings, she invites you into her tasty, stylish, self-made world, which bridges relatability with expertise. You and your mom may love watching Hayden in equal measure. She’s accessible and entertaining, whether you intend to preserve some ramps or not. (I’m a fan of Hayden’s and I emphatically do not.)
Hayden recently partnered with Shipt, the same-day delivery service you can use to fetch both your decor and spread, to offer customers her exact picks for hosting and sit down for press interviews. Being the incorrigible busybody that I am, I spoke to her about everything from her career to what’s cool right now and why lemons are the new hot sauce.
Read on for her insightful taste test and have yourself a Mere little Christmas, indeed.
SC: A colleague referred to you as the “non-problematic Alison Roman,” and you seem poised to become Gen Z’s Martha Stewart.
MH: That’s so funny. I’ve always really looked up to Martha Stewart—I love not only her recipes but her flair for entertaining. I enjoy doing the tablescape just as much as I enjoy doing the menu.
SC: Do you want to host a live cooking segment?
MH: I get nervous leaving my house, so I’d definitely be nervous to do a live cooking segment. I think live television is extremely intimidating, but it would be fun. It’s exciting to think about reaching new audiences and being able to share recipes with people who might not have stumbled across me on social media.
SC: You launched a newsletter, The Group Chat, for your followers. How does that differ from your social posts?
MH: My newsletter allows me to go into detail about topics that I’m passionate about, and know that it reaches an audience that is also super passionate. Because if you’re reading the newsletter, that means that you’re already enthusiastic. On social media, my priorities are a bit more geared towards mass consumption. My newsletter has been a passion project where I can just go off about random topics that I’m super excited about. It’s fun to see other people be excited about them, too.
SC: Your followers are so engaged they trickle into other platforms to chat all things Mere. There’s a Reddit community that compares you to other New York City-based creators, and people say you deserve your success. How do you handle so many people commenting on your life?
MH: I tend to avoid Reddit because I know that it can be a negative space, so I’m thrilled to hear that there’s some positivity. I read all of my Instagram, TikTok, and newsletter comments. I take into account what people have to say about certain recipes, and I get a lot of constructive comments on my website about my recipes. I’m the only one who’s developing these recipes, but it’s almost like, I have this other second little team saying, ‘Hey, I did this, it didn’t work very well, could you go back?,’ and then I’ll run through the recipe again. Having an audience so accessible to me is one of my biggest tools. Think about traditional food media, where you publish a show on TV, and then you don’t get to hear from the consumer. That’s the fun thing about social media—being able to know that people like or don’t like it and adjust accordingly the next time you make a recipe.
SC: Let’s move into food: Do you warn your patrons if you cook something that isn’t fantastic?
MH: I never warn them. I think my threshold for what’s my best and what’s fantastic is a lot higher than everyone else’s threshold. People aren’t as critical as we think they are, especially with food. I think I’m my biggest critic, so I always try to manage expectations and hope for the best. I’ve never had anything like come out atrociously bad where it was inedible. I’ve tasted a dish and been a little disappointed with it, but I’ve never had to give any disclaimers.
SC: What are the new Pigs in a Blanket?
MH: Pigs in a Blanket.
SC: How do you determine what to splurge on?
MH: I usually will pick one area to splurge on, whether I’m getting caviar to make a fun appetizer, or I’m getting champagne, and then kind of adjust everything else accordingly. Because if you splurge on everything, then it all kind of fades in. It doesn’t pop as much or have that contrast of like, “Oh, we’re eating caviar but like it’s on potato chips, or we’re eating pasta, but we’re having this delicious wine.” It’s all about just picking what inspires you in that moment and committing to it.
SC: What’s the one item that truly elevates your cooking?
MH: Lemons. People underestimate how necessary acid is to make things taste good. If you’re putting hot sauce on everything, it’s not always because you want a spicy meal. It’s also because hot sauce is vinegar, vinegar is acid, and acid elevates flavors and food. Squeezing a little bit of lemon juice or some lemon zest makes flavors pop similarly to salt. It doesn’t change the flavor too much, it just lifts everything.
SC: What kitchen product is a game-changer for you?
MH: I love Barkeeper’s Friend for really tough stuck-on kitchen stains. It will get out stuff that you think is going to be there forever. I don’t know how it does it, but it never fails.
Bar Keeper’s Friend
Starting at $2.29, this is a one-and-done cleaner for your kitchen and bathroom.
SC: You seem to be the hostess of your friend group. What’s the social event you wish more people would host?
MH: I love the idea of people doing cookbook clubs where you choose a cookbook and everyone finds a recipe in the book that they love, make it, and bring it to a party. I’ve never been to one but I’m open to being invited.
SC: So what are you doing at midnight on New Year’s Eve: kissing, sleeping, or dancing?
MH: It could be any of the three. I think I’ll do a big night out, dinner with friends, and then probably come back to my apartment to watch the ball drop. Whether or not I’m asleep by the time the ball drops is out of my control.
SC: Do you have a mantra for 2024?
MH: I’m trying to achieve more balance. I get tunnel vision during the week with work and I don’t do a ton of social stuff. I want to loosen my grip—that’s a good mantra.