“The Work We Do” is an interview series that asks creatives with daydream-worthy jobs how they got where they are—and what it’s like to live a day in their shoes. Today, I’m thrilled to feature Phoenix-based food blogger and entrepreneur Jessica Helgeson.
Jessica Helgeson and I first met (online) after I shared one of her recipes here nearly two years ago. Since then, as you know, she contributed a series of delicious recipes to Hither & Thither, many with video companions on her site SEE Salt. In that time, I also realized that I knew Jessica from somewhere else: Along with millions of other people, I watched her get married on The Today Show the same year I was planning my wedding. I recall it so well!
She’s just launched a private label of her own fleur de sel (named See Salt, appropriately) and so I was thrilled when she agreed to be interviewed for a Work We Do feature. (And of course I couldn’t help but ask her about that wedding, too—even if it were nearly ten years ago.)
You’re a Portland native. How did you find yourself in Phoenix?
I came down for college. I wanted to go to ASU to study broadcasting — and I was very interested in sunshine. I met my husband there and I’ve never gone back.
You and your husband have quite a unique wedding story — you were married on The Today Show. We’d love to know more about how that came to be.
When I first moved down from Portland, I started working at a steakhouse called Firebirds. My husband worked there, too. I had no idea, but he was in cahoots with the manager to schedule our shifts at the same time. Anyway, we started dating, and we became engaged about a year later. We were really young at the time, 21 and 23, so we were saving up for a small, simple backyard wedding. But my mom, who’s an avid viewer of The Today Show, called one morning to tell us that the show was throwing a wedding and that she thought we could win it. They were traveling to seven different cities, one of which was Las Vegas, and she paid for our gas for the trip.
To make a long story short, we were chosen from something like 30,000 applicants. Martha Stewart was our wedding planner. And we planned the wedding, step by step, over the course of three months. Then, on a beautiful fall morning in 2007, we were married by my pastor in Rockefeller Center in front of 105 of our closest family and friends. We found out later that three million people watched on TV, but I felt it was incredibly intimate in its own way.
Do you still get asked about that experience often?
We do. The Today Show still calls about once a year to do a follow-up and to ask about our family and what we’ve been up to. It’s been eight years at this point, and we have two kids — a three-year-old named Caroline, and a one-year-old named Benjamin. When the wedding first happened, we got stopped all the time. Everyone felt like they had been there with us. A lot of that has died off since, but every once in a while, we run into people who remember.
What does work look like these days? You wear quite a few hats — and you’ve just started an exciting new business. Tell us about it.
Well, I work as a labor and delivery nurse in the same hospital where I had both my babies. That’s one piece of my heart. The other piece is in See Salt, the company I’ve had now for about two years. It started as a food blog — and it still is — but we’ve recently started to private label our own fleur de sel, which is a French sea salt. It’s just outstanding. We’re thrilled to present it to our audience. We’re really trying to bring awareness to finishing salts and what they can do for your cooking.
For those new to the idea, what can a good finishing salt do for a dish?
Sea salt enhances every flavor in a dish. The best part is, it doesn’t have to be fancy, and you don’t need to use a lot — whether it’s chocolate chip cookies or a kale salad, a little pinch just makes everything taste better. Food is not the same without it.
Have you always loved to cook? What inspired you to start a food blog?
I actually run the company with my mom. She’s always inspired me. She raised me as a single mother, and she taught me that even when the fridge seems empty, you can still make something that’s beautiful and healthy and worth being proud of. I’ve always loved her food, and now, cooking is something we love to do together.
We started the site as a place to share recipes, quick tips, and our video work — we wanted to make simple, delicious food fun and lighthearted. We gear our content toward young families in particular — we don’t want people to feel like they have to go out and buy really expensive ingredients. To me, that’s a turn-off in a recipe. So often in the food blogging world, the food is missing actual yumminess. It might be on trend, but it’s not necessarily appetizing. Or it’s complicated to the point that readers can’t make it look the way it’s presented online.
A question that we ask many of our interviewees is whether or not a “typical day” exists in their world. Most say no. Is the same true for you?
Yes. Absolutely. My day is a balancing act. Between being a nurse and a blogger and running a full-on growing business, I have no typical routine. The day is filled with messes and beauty, and it’s all about finding balance. The same is true of cooking, I think.
What words of wisdom would you offer others looking to make a mark in the online food world?
I’d say the most important thing is to put effort into finding out what drives you. Pinpoint what makes you different from everyone else — and stay on course. The world of food blogging is huge. One of the biggest challenges is learning not to compare yourself to others, and to just stay true to what it is that makes your work unique.
What’s on the horizon for See Salt over the next few years?
I would love for us to be a recognizable name in the finishing salt world, and I’d love to be creating custom flavors. We really look forward to that in the future. And we’ll continue to be producing recipe content and using our site to show people ways to use our salt. That’s our direction.
All photographs courtesy of Jessica, with photos by Michelle Herrick, Bailey Carlin, and Amy Frances. Thank you to Shoko Wanger for her help with this series! Read more about the inspiration behind it.
P.S. See all the previous entries in The Work We Do. And look back at some of the delicious recipes Jessica contributed to Hither & Thither, including some pictured here: TexMex tartines, a couscous salad to make tonight, and a pear and blackberry galette.