Ever since she was little, Hailee Catalano—a recipe writer based out of Asbury Park, New Jersey—knew she wanted to cook. From standing on a stool, watching over her mother’s shoulder, to a career in professional kitchens, food has been a driving force of passion for Catalano. “I grew up cooking. I knew I wanted to go to culinary school when I was only 8 years old,” she told me.
Catalano’s content centers around cooking, curating videos that outline different recipes and methods for her followers to try out in the kitchen. Unlike many other recipe creators, who, let’s face it, post some gimmick-laden recipes to their pages, Catalano focuses on good, simple food—something that she has a lot of experience making from her days working on the line in restaurants.
Hailee Catalano: The Journey to Now
It all started in the Chicago suburbs, where Catalano picked up the early days of her cooking prowess. Making Italian-American classics like Sunday sauce and stuffed shells with her mother, she showed early on that she possessed a natural talent in the kitchen. Catalano developed a love for food and decided on the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) for her next step after high school. She arrived at the CIA in Hyde Park, NY, in 2012 and spent the following two years honing her craft and learning from some of the best culinary minds in the business.
As most do, Catalano hit the ground running after graduating from the CIA in 2014. She moved to New Jersey, where she got her first taste of the Garden State’s culinary landscape. Catalano scored a job at the legendary (now-defunct) Talde, by Chef Dale Talde in Jersey City. It was there that she began her real-world culinary journey, one that unbeknownst to her at the time, would eventually lead to a career in content creation.
After a few months at Talde, Catalano moved back to Chicago, where it all began and brought along her boyfriend Chuck Cruz, who is also a chef. The two of them bounced around, working at various restaurants and picking up skills along the way before taking a three-month trip together to travel Southeast Asia and Australia, learning about food, culture and more.
On this trip, Catalano discovered a world of ingredients and techniques that she was unfamiliar with. The couple visited Cruz’ family in the Philippines, learning how they cooked in their home. She embraced it all as if the early days of her cooking journey—absorbing recipes and methods from her family—returned to her.
If it wasn’t clear yet, Catalano is a never-ending student of food.
@haileecatalanocook a private dinner with us ✨♬ Wes Anderson-esque Cute Acoustic – Kenji Ueda
Catalano eventually worked her way up to Sous Chef at Cellar Door Provisions where she stayed for a few years before returning to New Jersey in early 2020, this time with goals of cooking in New York City. That was the idea, anyway, but a global pandemic had different plans. Restaurants in New York and New Jersey were shut down for an undisclosed amount of time and it wasn’t the best time to be job-hunting.
Catalano, as she does, adapted. She began turning to the internet, where for years, she was fascinated by cooking personalities and creators on the likes of Bon Appetit and Food 52. “Throughout this whole time of being a line cook, I loved it, but it’s hard, you get burnt out,” she stated “I thought to myself ‘How do people get these jobs at Test Kitchens like on Bon Appetit?’”
She began cold emailing publications and businesses, pitching her experience and just crossing her fingers that someone would bite. She landed her first kitchen job in 2020 for an appliance company, but she quickly found it wasn’t really for her. “I quickly realized that the corporate structure wasn’t for me. It wasn’t where I thrived,” she told me.
Hailee Catalano: Building a Career in Social Media
Catalano turned to social media, where she decided to take a crack at growing a following of her own. She began posting coffee tutorials on TikTok and, slowly, her follower count grew. She would post seasonal lattes, hot chocolate, tea and even the viral egg coffee that took TikTok by storm in 2020. For the first time in a long time, Catalano was producing something that was entirely hers.
View this post on Instagram
Her account grew to around 250 thousand followers before she started posting the thing she loved the most: Cooking. Once Catalano began posting recipes, she started to grow more rapidly. She picked up social media tricks and started adding voice overs to add flair to the videos. Her first taste of true virality came when she posted a recipe for an Italian-American staple, pasta with vodka sauce. “The vodka pasta recipe was the one that really got me a lot of followers. It got around 17 million views,” says Catalano.
At this point, growth was constant between TikTok and Instagram, and Catalano began to post recipes nearly daily. Brands began to hit her up for deals, advertisement opportunities came and she quickly found herself working her dream job. All the years of longing to make a career through cooking videos, and now she was doing it from the comfort of her home, on her terms.
@haileecatalanobaked spicy vodka pasta! 🤩♬ original sound – Hailee Catalano
Catalano’s recipes are easy-to-follow and simple, but also employ several restaurant techniques, which sets her apart from the rest of the social media recipe creators. Her content is designed to teach you about food, whether you recognize it or not. Her food ranges from weeknight pastas and sheet-tray pizzas to more advanced dishes like fish en papillote (a method of cooking seafood in parchment paper) and grilled zucchini salads. Catalano is also a talented baker, showing off recipes for sourdough breads, galettes and various plated desserts.
When coming up with a video, the one thing Catalano always makes certain is that whether the recipe costs $5 to make or contains a bump of osetra caviar, the instructions are clear and the technique is accessible. Moreover, her videos are entirely free of gimmicks—something that has plagued the social media recipe world for years if you ask me. You won’t find excess indulgence or attention-grabbing stunts in a Hailee Catalano video, but you will always find a great recipe.
Today, she has grown to over 330 thousand followers on Instagram and a staggering 1.8 million on TikTok. With a dedicated following of devout Hailee fans, she remains one of the fastest-growing cooking creators on social media. In a true full-circle event, Catalano was recently featured in Food 52—a publication she once dreamed of working for. Now, they’re the ones reaching out to her.
For Hailee Catalano, though, she’s just happy that people are cooking her food.
“I really like that I get to see other people make the recipes… That’s easily my favorite part. Seeing people enjoy a dish is what brought me to cooking in the first place. I used to cook the food in restaurants behind the scenes, now I share the recipes and watch people cook them. There’s much more comfort in that [for me]. It feels a lot more fulfilling.”
About the Author/s
Peter Candia is the Food + Drink Editor at New Jersey Digest. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, Peter found a passion for writing midway through school and never looked back. He is a former line cook, server and bartender at top-rated restaurants in the tri-state area. In addition to food, Peter enjoys politics, music, sports and anything New Jersey.