New book: TO ASIA, WITH LOVE / OUT NOW
HETTY MCKINNON HAS A LOT ON HER PLATE. THIS SUMMER HER NEW COOKBOOK OF HEARTY, PLANT-BASED SALAD RECIPES, NEIGHBORHOOD, IS SET FOR RELEASE. THE TWO-YEAR-LONG FEAT IS CULMINATING IN A SERIES OF POP-UP DINNERS AND TALKS THAT SHE'S BUSY PREPARING FOR. ON TOP OF THIS, SHE IS ALSO GETTING READY TO UNVEIL ANOTHER PROJECT: A BROOKLYN-BASED STUDIO OF THE SAME NAME, WHICH SHE CO-FOUNDED WITH FELLOW COOKBOOK AUTHOR JODI MORENO. NEIGHBORHOOD STUDIO, LIKE THE COOKBOOK, CENTRALIZES AROUND THE IDEA OF CREATING COMMUNITY THROUGH FOOD - A RUNNING THEME THAT PUMPS STEADILY THROUGH THE VEINS OF HETTY’S ACCLAIMED SALAD AND PLANT-BASED BUSINESS ARTHUR STREET KITCHEN.
We are standing in the heart of Hetty’s home, the kitchen. It overlooks her backyard and contains an eclectic mish-mash of all of her favorite things. Stacks of cookbooks line the room; their covers oil-stained, spines broken. Beside the window, a dormant fireplace sits repurposed as a bookcase, sagging under the weight of yet even more books. Photos of her husband, Ross, and their three kids, Scout, Dash and Huck, adorn the walls. Little knick knacks picked up from their travels are peppered throughout the room. On her stovetop, rests a well-loved Japanese style stainless steel kettle which she confesses that she uses to cook rice on occasion. She surrounds herself with things she loves; things she can draw inspiration from on the daily. Her home, like her cooking, is unique and personal.
In 2011, Hetty began making salads out of her home kitchen in Surry Hills, Sydney. The salads were big and overflowing with flavor, starring an ensemble cast of vegetables. At the time, this style of food was still novel to her community. Hetty started taking weekly orders and rode her bike around the neighborhood to deliver her salads to locals. Arthur Street Kitchen became a vehicle through which she could peddle her message of thinking creatively about the vegetables you put on your plate and, most importantly, appreciating the in-between moments of food; the conversations and belonging that sharing a meal can facilitate. “It was this amazing business that came from nothing,” she says of Arthur Street Kitchen, “I still feel weird calling it a business. I didn’t really do it to make money. It was never about that. In the end it became that I was giving a service to the people. So if I was ill and I couldn’t cook I would feel so guilty. It would be like I couldn’t cook for my family.”
Hetty wears the Kimono Dress - Summer Edition in Navy.
“IT TAUGHT ME A LOT OF WHAT I DO NEEDS TO BE WITHIN A FAMILY SETTING.”
This extended food family played a pivotal role in the evolution of her business. The salad deliveries were accompanied by “lively conversation, exuberant laughter and a constantly evolving hunting and gathering of stories and histories.” These connections inspired Hetty to self-publish a cookbook, Community, that told the story of the locals that shaped Arthur Street Kitchen. It was jam-packed with over sixty of the salad recipes that she was cooking and delivering every week. These salads were intentionally big as they were designed to be shared. The act of sharing a salad served as a conduit to understanding and
connecting with your fellow neighbors. This phenomenon of salad-sharing blew up. The book was picked up by local Australian publishers and stocked nationwide. Community took on a life of its own. “It became like this folklore,” Hetty says. People were sharing the books with their family and friends and using the recipes in the spirit they were intended.
Then in 2014, the McKinnon family relocated to New York. Although that involved uprooting her business Arthur Street Kitchen, which had developed a cult-like following of salad-eaters at this point, the move couldn’t have come at a better time. After the release of Community, the demand for Hetty’s salads catapulted out of control and she was working tirelessly to meet it. “My time was coming to an end, running the business the way it was, because it was getting too big,” she says. Moving countries presented her with a challenge albeit an exciting one. How could she translate the message of Arthur Street Kitchen to a new context and audience? It was a challenge that would put the universality of her message to the test.
“It took me way longer than I expected,” she confesses, “I was trying to think: How do I still do what I’m doing but in a meaningful way, that’s not just in the obvious way that people think about food that’s within the framework of a store or a restaurant or a cafe? What is the physical manifestation of my message?”.
Her first two years in New York were spent sketching out the blueprint for how Arthur Street Kitchen could take shape in this new terrain. Initially, Hetty tried to replicate the same salad delivery service, that she offered back home, in her Brooklyn neighborhood of Carroll Gardens. To abide by the food and health regulations of New York City, Hetty began working out of a large commercial kitchen decked out with top-of-the-line stainless steel appliances. She prepared her salads there before biking around the leafy streets of Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hills to deliver them - but the experience was not the same. Cooking was more clinical and calculated in this environment, which was foreign for someone who jokingly labels herself a “rogue cook” and whose business was built on the premise of providing to a large community from within a small home kitchen. “People really wanted a home cooked meal,” she says, “They were almost disappointed it wasn’t cooked at home.” The period of working in the commercial kitchen was all but wasted though, “It taught me a lot of what I do needs to be within a family setting.” So it was back to the drawing board. She took some time out from salad deliveries to reassess how to evolve her business further whilst retaining that sense of community.
During this time Hetty continued working on her follow-up cookbook, Neighborhood. The book is a compilation of recipes that draw from “life, travel, memories and shared histories”. It takes you on a journey through France, Asia, Australia, the Mediterranean, and America via large, flavorful, seasonal salads. She had written most of the book following a detour the family took through Europe before settling into their new home in the Empire state. They traversed France, Italy, Germany, Finland and London - eating their way through local markets and soaking up the culinary traditions of all the different neighborhoods in each city. Unlike most other cookbooks, Neighborhood features a soft-cover and feels almost like a magazine. “In the kitchen that’s what’s functional,” she explains, “I want people to get it dirty and to be able to use it; not for it to be so beautiful that you don’t want to put it on your kitchen bench or get oil on it”. For Hetty, everything comes down to the experience and that includes the way her books are read.
Her message about the connections and experiences surrounding food may manifest itself in the form of her salads, but it also lives on beyond the plate. Whether it be a dish, a book, a studio, or the next project she has in the pipeline, one thing will always remain the same, “It all comes down to the personal. Everything I do has to be personal.”