Interview by Madeleine Dore
Photography by Maggie Shannon
Arthur Street Kitchen
Hetty McKinnon makes friends with salad. In 2011, Hetty moved on from public relations to make impressive vegetable creations from her home kitchen in Surry Hills, Sydney, and delivered them personally around her neighbourhood.
Arthur Street Kitchen was born and Hetty’s salads were soon selling out – in part due to the delicious recipes (think chargrilled broccoli with smashed chickpeas and dukkah, or edamame with baby bok choy, quinoa and honey-ginger dressing) – but there’s no question Hetty’s infectious enthusiasm played a significant role in their popularity.
It was the promise of personal exchanges that motivated Hetty to deliver sometimes over eighty salads around her neighbourhood.
“I wanted to know every person that I was delivering to. Some people didn't get it and would ask, "Why don't you just get someone to deliver for you?’ But that wasn’t the idea of the business – I didn't want to take over Sydney with my salads. To me, it was about creating a service to my community, sharing stories and laughter.”
Since moving to Brooklyn with her husband and three children, Hetty is as busy as ever. “I feel right now in this particular juncture of my life, my whole world is colliding.”
“I’ve long been looking for a spot to base myself where I could cook street food, have pop-up food events, and also a community space. Kind of like a co-working space, but a co-cooking space instead,” she explains.
Then there is the recent release of Peddler Journal, the multicultural food journal that celebrates the non-trend driven, slower moments of food. Then the usual array of brainstorming recipes, maintaining the Arthur Street Kitchen journal, and photoshoots.
When I ask how she executes so many out of the box ideas, Hetty smiles. “I don't ever overthink anything that I do. Everything happens very organically – to use that overused cliché! But I suppose before when I was in PR, things weren’t.”
Not overthinking creative ideas may be the key to seeing them through, as so many can be stifled by fear of failure or financial stress.
“I don't want the money to be the reason I do or don’t do things. It's not like I'm making a lot of money, but I never think about that as the end,” says Hetty. “I started Arthur Street because I wanted to share something that I really like with other people, so I just did it, and it turned it into a business while I was doing it.”
Constantly begged for recipes, Hetty initially self-published her first cookbook Community, for similar reasons – to share something with other people. Her second cookbook, Neighbourhood, was recently released in Australia and in the USA earlier this year.
“Now, the books provide a steady flow of income that allows me to do other creative things, which I feel very, very lucky and fortunate – out of doing something I love, I get to do other things.”
Even though from the outside it may look as if Hetty constantly throws caution to the wind to set up a meal delivery service, self-publish cookbooks, open a new co-cooking space, and start a new food magazine, she admits not all her ideas have legs.
“I have to say, I follow through like one idea out of a hundred,” she laughs.
Many an ‘ideas-person’ can relate – so how do we know which ideas to pursue?
“Every now and then an idea will come along that I feel compelled to do and it’s usually a personal thing. When I started the business delivering salads on my bike, people would ask, ‘Do you do a business plan?’ and I was like, ‘What is a business plan?’ I just don't think that way. For me, it was about living in this wonderful neighborhood where everyone is a local and giving back.”
Now in Brooklyn, Hetty’s work and projects fit around looking after her three children.
“I have to mould my life to that – my routine revolves around the kids, because I don't have any help here – in Sydney my mum ran my whole life basically!”
While Hetty admits it was difficult to adjust to the routine of motherhood after a busy career in PR, it’s ultimately what brought her back to cooking and doing what gives her joy.
“It was during that time when my kids were really young that I started cooking – I remember putting my oldest to bed and then spending hours making elaborate meals or I’d start making dinner in the middle of the day and that was the greatest joy.”
I usually get up like seven. I'm not so great in the morning because I go to bed so late.
I wake up to a phone full of messages, which I’ll read in bed, it’s terrible! That’s the thing about being an expat – if I was awake, I could work 24 hours a day because I would like finish my work and emails, and then all of a sudden all the new ones would come in from Australia.
Then it's getting the kids ready to get to school. My youngest wakes up before me, but the other two have to be dragged out of bed.
Luckily, the school is nearby so we will walk and drop them off around 8.50am or something. Then after that, I'll grab a coffee or sometimes I’ll make a pour over at home.
I'm not a breakfast person. When I was a kid, we never had cereal. We ate a savoury breakfast of noodles or fried rice. I've never been able to understand the whole cereal thing, but my kids eat cereal.
My morning is much more undisciplined here. In Sydney, I'd always go sit in a cafe for an hour and drink coffee with friends. But here, it's more go, go, go. So often, I will do all my emails in the morning.
I'm not a big a to-do list of person. I was when I worked in an office, but now I only do a to-do list if I feel out of control because I can set my own schedule with things.
A day could be spent testing a recipe and I can sometimes spend an entire day in the kitchen. I’ll get inspired by something I've seen or eaten in a restaurant or remembered from childhood. Then I write recipes and test them. They almost always work out because after years of doing it I have a bit of an instinct as to what goes well.
I usually eat lunch at around 11.00am because I'll get hungry. I have no idea what I eat for lunch every day – it’s always different. It could be leftovers with an egg. There's a lot of eggs involved in my day, I have to be honest.
I do a lot of shooting at home, maybe once or twice a week and sometimes other people use it as a location.
I don't really see myself as a photographer – the only thing I ever shoot for myself is my social media stuff, my blog and the magazine. I really like working with people, so if I’m cooking and doing the photography myself, it can become quite insular. I like to work with other photographers because that's what brings interest to your day, I think.
I usually like to work with people I know, too, because we always eat after. It's nicer to eat with people you know,. Luckily I have a lot of creative friends.
"I feel that when you move to a new city you are forced into friendships a lot quicker and you’re thrown into things. Everything accelerates and you become more bound to them in a quicker way."
I feel that when you move to a new city you are forced into friendships a lot quicker and you’re thrown into things. Everything accelerates and you become more bound to them in a quicker way. When you're in your home city or whatever, friendships grow over time and have more time to develop. I've been lucky the friends that I've made in food here are just so lovely, I feel like I have a crew here.
I thought when my youngest got to kindergarten that I’d go movies in the middle of the day or to the museum, but instead I almost never do anything that's not related to work.
Every now and then, I'll have a ton of friends come over and we all just sit around and eat and talk and just catch up. They're my favourite days.
I work from 9.00am to 2.30pm and then I’ll pick up the kids from school, maybe get another coffee, and then it's all about them for a few hours.
I do their lunchboxes in the afternoon for the next day because I just don't have enough time in the morning to do it. When I was a kid, we just got a sandwich and an apple. Now you've got these lunch boxes and there’s this pressure to fill every space in the box!
Really my routine is cooking all day long – I do their lunch boxes and the kids will play and do homework.
I’m not very good at doing the big grocery shop at the start of the week – I usually go to a deli right before I need cook. I’ll have something in mind, or if I’ve been recipe testing, we’ll eat that for dinner.
When you have kids your days are much more routine and it becomes almost like clockwork. At 6.00pm I'll start yelling, "Go for your showers" before dinner and then it take half an hour for them to actually go and do it.
My husband won’t be home from work in time for dinner, so I'll eat with the kids around 6.30pm.
Then I usually relax in front of the TV or watch Rachel Maddow and get angry. I guess I do have a very set routine!
The kids will go to bed around 9.00pm and I might hop back onto the computer until 11.00pm.
My partner, Ross, will come home late and it’s one of the great struggles, because when he comes home I’m obviously tired so there's not a lot of time to talk about stuff really.
After I finish at the computer I’ll have a shower and then I'll come down and have a cup of tea and usually will fall asleep in front of the TV or something.
I’m usually be in bed after midnight.
"When you have kids your days are much more routine and it becomes almost like clockwork. At 6.00pm I'll start yelling, "Go for your showers" before dinner and then it take half an hour for them to actually go and do it."
There’s usually some sort of sporting or music commitment with the kids on the weekend – it’s very demanding.
Since we got the Neighbourhood Studio we've also been having lots of meetings on the weekends.
In the summer we’ll try to have a BBQ on the weekend. I need to get back into the dinner party thing, we haven't been doing it very much lately. You just get caught up with life, don't you?
I feel like I need 12 more hours in every day, but perhaps not really. It's busy, but with a freelancer's life, you're just so lucky to be able to make your own time and every day is different.
“You know what I think is extraordinary? Nature. When I'm cooking, I'll cut a vegetable or something and just go, "Oh my god, I cannot believe this has come from the ground. I’m often awed by a vegetable on my chopping board.”
– Hetty McKinnon
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