Martha Stewart has a bowl of lemons behind the glass doors of the refrigerator in her farmhouse kitchen, freshly picked from the trees in her own greenhouse. There’s a bowl of eggs on the counter, supplied from the chickens in her coop. And then there’s Catherine Foley ’10 standing by the counter, ready to spend an hour baking with the home and lifestyle legend.
Foley ended up in Stewart’s kitchen as a contestant on this spring’s new Food Network show “Bakeaway Camp with Martha Stewart,” which featured six amateur bakers braving the elements in an outdoor kitchen to tackle summer camp-inspired baking challenges. Filmed in summer 2019 under the purview of “Camp Director” Stewart, the show aired in May and June 2020, with each episode featuring a challenge and an elimination. The challenges took place over two rounds; each week, the winner of round one earned a one-on-one mentoring session with Stewart in her home kitchen.
Foley — who describes Stewart’s kitchen as “spectacular” and “idyllic” — impressed the show’s judges immediately, winning the mentoring session in the premiere episode’s first challenge: putting a unique spin on camping’s favorite dessert, s’mores. Foley, who was a French major at Holy Cross and worked for a chocolatier during her year abroad in France, decided to create a s’mores version of a French macaron. To create the perfect macaron, the dessert needs time to dry, Foley says, which was a hurdle during this one-hour challenge.
“They weren’t perfect, but the judges loved them, and that’s what let me go to Martha’s house,” Foley says. Stewart gave her tips on layer cakes and recommended putting gelatin in lemon curd during their one-on-one session.
“The thing about Martha is that everybody feels like they know who she is, or has an opinion about ‘the Martha Stewart,'” Foley says. “In learning from her, she is a very kind, very sweet woman. But she is also a very strong woman, a strong businesswoman. So I really connected with her in a lot of ways. I’m very inspired by her and her trajectory, as much as a person and also Martha Stewart the brand.”
Foley’s own brand is her Instagram page, @CatInTheKitchn, and the baking business she runs, in addition to her day job as an energy resilience consultant at Deloitte in Washington, D.C. She was the runner-up on “Bakeaway Camp” and won’t rule out a return to TV baking in the future, saying,
“I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
Foley auditioned for the show after seeing a Food Network casting call for home bakers on Facebook, through a Holy Cross connection. A Massachusetts native, she grew up cooking with her mom and aunt, and says food is the center of their family celebrations.
“In our family, Easter is a really big deal. I was raised Russian Orthodox and we would always make traditional Easter bread and lots of other things in the run-up to the holiday,” she says. “Food is what brings people together. No matter how big or small the kitchen is, that’s where everybody congregates. It’s been the case in all of my apartments and my family home that I grew up in.”
Foley notes baking was often an outlet when she was stressed and that she gravitated toward desserts because of their celebratory nature: “They’re meant to be shared, to be enjoyed. There’s nothing better than a good piece of cake because you share it. You’re not going to keep a whole 6- or 8-inch cake to yourself.”
Foley bonded with fellow bakers over cake when she was living in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she was studying for master’s degrees in international relations and climate change law. There, she joined the Edinburgh Bakers club, where each member bakes a cake according to a chosen theme, brings it to the next meeting and everyone goes home with a piece of cake from their fellow bakers.
“It was a really fun time and that was really where it started,” she says. “[I was] trying new things, not just relying on things that my family had always made or things that I knew were simple.”
While Foley is skilled at more advanced recipes, her advice for novice bakers is to keep it simple at first.
“Baking is meant to be fun,” she says. “For anybody who wants to start baking, take something easy, like a chocolate chip cookie or a brownie or a blondie; something simple that doesn’t have a lot of ingredients. Whether it’s with your kids or your friends or just by yourself, don’t stress. It’s not life or death — it’s just sugar.”
Written by Maura Sullivan Hill for the Fall 2020 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.
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