Family | Hetty McKinnon
By Hetty McKinnon
Intro: Welcome to the Cookery By the Book podcast, with Suzy Chase. She's just a home cook in New York City, sitting at her dining-room table, talking to cookbook authors.
Hetty McKinnon: Hi, this is Hetty McKinnon and I'm the author of a new cookbook called Family: New Vegetarian Comfort Food to Nourish Every Day.
Suzy Chase: Everything you do has a special homey welcoming feel, from Neighborhood Studio, your community kitchen, to Peddler Journal and Multicultural Food Journal, to your blog, Arthur Street Kitchen, to your latest cookbook Family. Take me back to Surry Hill City in 2011 when you rode around your neighborhood delivering salads to locals. Talk a bit about your style of creating, feeding and connecting with community.
Hetty McKinnon: Great question. So, Arthur Street Kitchen was a salad delivery business which was started out of my home kitchen in Sydney in a little neighborhood called Surry Hills. And at the time before this, I think people didn't quite understand that I wasn't involved in food. Before 2011 I was... many years I worked in PR, living in Sydney and London, and then we moved home and I had three children in quick succession and I just really decided I wanted to do something that I could do from home, that kept me within my community. It was just a really special time and a special neighborhood.
Hetty McKinnon: I have been vegetarian for many years, and even though Surry Hills has a lot of beautiful food, it's one of the most popular food areas in Sydney, I thought, actually there's no one really making salads, like vegetarian salads, big salad with lots of multicultural flavors. So I just thought, hey, I'm going to do this. And I started... I use business, like I'm doing air quotes right now, "business" in inverted commas, because I didn't really see it as a business. I just thought, actually just really want to cook for people. Because before this I didn't really... as I said, I wasn't involved in food, so...
Hetty McKinnon: Once I started cooking, I really realized that connection that can be [inaudible 00:02:25] through food, that was quite unique, that feeling of cooking for someone and of them appreciating the effort that you've put in something that you've made with your own hands, was quite a... almost an addictive feeling. I just felt this incredible emotional connection that I'd never experienced before. So basically I made these salads, they were vegetarian salads, vegetable based, seasonal, and I'd pop them in a little container and put them on the back of my bike and I cycled them around my neighborhood.
Hetty McKinnon: So for me that business was always... I always felt like it was more for me than for other people. I got such joy out of the feeding. But never did I expect that the people I was delivering to would respond in the way that they responded. I never imagined that over this exchange of a salad box that you could become lifelong friends with somebody. That you in 10 minutes, or... I have to say, Suzy, I took a long time delivering, because I talk so much. And I would just look forward to seeing these people. I only delivered two days a week. And those two days it was... I just wanted to see people, I just wanted to talk to them. We'd talk about the food a little bit, but we'd also talk about life and the neighborhood and love, and all these things. In that exchange of a salad box there would be this deep friendship being formed. It was just really special, and many of those people are still my very close friends. I see them as part of my family now.
Hetty McKinnon: So yes, it was a really incredible thing, and the business just took off. I never advertised it, I didn't really want to... I didn't want people to know about it, almost. I wanted it to really develop from word of mouth. I wanted people to really only find out about it because someone loved it so much that they told them about it. Once word got out, though, it started getting hard, because I only really delivered to a very small area, because I was doing everything myself. Like you, Suzy, with your podcast, I was a one woman show. I was basically teaching myself to cook while I ran the business. I didn't really... all these salad recipes were made up on the week of the delivery.
Hetty McKinnon: Every week I made up four new salads. Because I guess sub-consciously I was teaching myself to cook, I was teaching myself about flavor and about what vegetables went with what spices, what vegetable teamed well with which grain, and each salad recipe was a story to me. It was my way of saying something about my life. It was me reaching back into my memory and going, wow, I had this salad six years ago in Puglia, in Italy, and that felt very evocative to me, and it reminds me of that particular vacation, and so I want to create a salad that's around that. Or certain ingredients, we started incorporating a lot of Asian ingredients, and that's because my mum was in the kitchen with me, she would come and... because my youngest at the time was one, this was when I started Arthur Street Kitchen, and she would come and look after my son [Hok 00:06:22] while I was cooking, but of course my mum's an amazing cook so she would come into the kitchen and boss me around. She would tell me all the things I was doing wrong and give me advice and...
Hetty McKinnon: I think that business to me was special from that point of view too, because it made me closer to my mum. It brought me closer to the story of her life, and she would tell me things while we were cooking together that she wouldn't normally tell me. The cliché of the little old Chinese women gossiping, that was us in the kitchen. It was just a really special business, and I guess from that I wrote a book that was called Community, and that book is... it just did these things that I never expected it to. At the time I'd never written a recipe before, and people asked me... about a year before I wrote the book people would start asking for recipes. "Oh, I really love that roasted carrot salad with the [inaudible 00:07:32], can I have that recipe?"
Hetty McKinnon: So I would go home and write these salad recipes and email it to people, just customers. And then it got to the point where, there was this one week, seminal week in deliveries, when four people said to me, "Oh, you should write a cookbook". And I was like, that's a sign. I should write a cookbook.
Suzy Chase: Yes!
Hetty McKinnon: So I started writing this collection of recipes, and it was just all the recipes that I had made over the... I think it was about a year or 18 months into the business. And I had this collection of recipes, and it was hard, Suzy, like the first... it took me about a year to write that book, because I was also running the business and had three young children at the time. And it took me a year to get all these recipes down, and salad deliveries turned into book deliveries, so there were a few weeks when I was delivering these books and salads. It was just an incredible time, unexpected. That's the story of Community, and Community is coming up to its fifth year in Australia and it's been a bestseller since the very beginning.
Suzy Chase: On your blog, you wrote: "My husband and I and our three children, Scout, Dash and Hok, now live in a leafy part of Brooklyn. Here I continue to make friends with salad". Now, as a non salad lover I took that sentence to mean that you learned to like salad. Did you always love it?
Hetty McKinnon: I love vegetables, so... I think that line actually means, I continue to make friends through serving salad.
Suzy Chase: Oh... oh my God, I left out a comma.
Hetty McKinnon: So there's that whole... people joke about this a lot, because there's that Simpsons episode where Bart says, "You can't make friends with salad". Well, I say that I've defied Bart Simpson by saying, I have made a lot of friends through salad. But salad, it's funny, it is actually a really pertinent question, because I'm Chinese, I grew up in a very traditional Chinese household, and we never ate salad. In Chinese culture you don't really eat a lot of raw things, because it's not... they deem it as too cold for your body, so it imbalances your body. Because there's a whole yin and yang thing, balancing hot and cold. So raw food is not something we eat a lot in Chinese culture.
Hetty McKinnon: Through cookbooks and really diving into the flavors from my childhood, I just discovered like, wow, you can roast and you can char grill and you can pan fry and I just thought, salad is the best way to present these vegetables. There is so much you can do with salad. There is all these journeys that you can go on through using spice and texture and even things down to herbs and nuts. With the herb that you... I used to do this thing with my friend in Sydney where we'd go, "Okay, so if it's a French salad, what nut are you going to use?" And I would say something like, "Oh, hazelnuts". Or, "If it's a Middle Eastern salad, what nut are you going to use?" I would say, "Oh, maybe a walnut". So there's all these different ways of injecting these elements into salads that give them real personality and a real story and a real character.
Hetty McKinnon: To me now, Family is more than just salad. There's a very hefty salad chapter, but there is also things like soups and pastas and bakes and a whole egg chapter. But if I had to choose one type of dish I would eat for the rest of my life, it would be a salad, because I can do anything with a salad.
Suzy Chase: Talk to me about the idea of cooked lettuce. I grew up in Kansas, and we always ate lettuce raw. We never cooked it.
Hetty McKinnon: Yes. I think most people in the world eat lettuce raw. As I was saying, in Chinese culture, we don't eat a lot of raw food, so lettuce is used as a very common base for stews. So there would be a mushroom stew that would... shiitake mushrooms that go on the top, or sometimes there's abalone, there's also an abalone stewed dish that would have cooked lettuce on the bottom. So most of our greens in Asian culture are cooked. Cooked lettuce is such a nostalgic taste for me.
Suzy Chase: Yes. On Monday evening I made your stir fried lettuce bowl, with ginger fried rice and fried egg. And the lettuce still had a bit of crunch, but it was nice and warm, and it was coated with the sauce. Can you describe this dish?
Hetty McKinnon: The fried rice for one is my favorite fried rice. It is ginger, it's very minimalist in ingredients, but ginger is the main flavoring for the rice. And then I've added the cooked lettuce, which is cooked in a soy sauce. You can use lots of things, you can use oyster sauce if you're not vegetarian, you can use the vegetarian stir fry sauce, a mushroom sauce, but I've used a soy based sauce. And then it's served with a fried egg. And a fried egg is something we ate a lot with rice. It was like my mother's... when she was in a hurry or she didn't have a lot of time, she would always make these fried eggs, perfectly made in a wok with brown frizzled edges and the yolk would be made custom according to how each of her children enjoyed it.
Suzy Chase: In this cookbook there are family stories sprinkled throughout. Tell us about... and I'm not going to pronounce her name right. Julia [Bushitil Nishamora 00:13:55] and her darling family.
Hetty McKinnon: Julia is a friend and colleague from Melbourne, in Australia, and she is of Maltese heritage. So she shares with us a Maltese ricotta pie which is nostalgic to her because it's the pie that her aunt made for her when she visited her in Malta. I think she's the queen of comfort food. She speaks fluent Italian, she lived in Italy for some time. She's actually an Italian teacher. And she has this Maltese heritage, and her husband is Japanese, so she also has that kind of influence. So she's got a really wonderful... I see her as... encapsulates multi-cultural Australia, in a way. I'm just touching on those family stories that are in Family, that you talk about. I see those stories as really the beating heart of the book. As cooks, as authors, as recipe developers, we're all part of this eco-system of history and... I find other people's stories so inspiring. Other people's stories bolster my own story, if you know what I mean.
Suzy Chase: Yes.
Hetty McKinnon: And it makes me feel like I'm part of a community that is larger than just myself, and I love to celebrate that. People have asked me before, "Why would you feature another person in your book? It's your book". And I'm like, but this is what I actually love the most. It's really sharing other people's stories and having that resonate just not only with me, but with other people.
Suzy Chase: The other night I made your other recipe, on page 42, for the deconstructed falafel salad. I love your interpretation of this recipe. Describe this.
Hetty McKinnon: Who doesn't falafels? We love falafels. I'm vegetarian, of course, and falafels is often the vegetarian option for non meat eaters. It's roasted chickpeas, and you can incidentally do this with any legume, you don't have to use chickpeas, you can use... I've done it with cannellini beans or navy beans, or borlotti, Roman beans. But it's just this method of you cooking it in olive oil and some garlic and some spices, and it just... the flavor intensifies and it gets this crispy coating on the outside and it's so more-ish.
Hetty McKinnon: And then the salad has a lemon tahini that's finished off, it's got the wilted kale alongside the freshly shaved cucumber. There's some herbs and lemon mixed in there. So there's a lot of texture and a lot of flavor, and it's just so deeply satisfying. You can serve it with pita chips. Some people like to eat it without, because it's then gluten free, but some pita chips is always nice too. So it's all about bringing in lots of layers of flavor, but then also bringing in lots of layers of texture. And I think the salad really encapsulates all of that.
Suzy Chase: The lovely thing about this cookbook is that you can combine frozen this, or store bought that, or canned whatever, and the dish comes out perfectly home made and fresh.
Hetty McKinnon: I don't always get to go to the greenmarket every week. Sometimes I'm just so busy, I have to make do with my local grocery store and my local greengrocer, and that's okay too. I want this book to be really egalitarian. I think there's a lot of guilt. People feel guilty. It's like, if I'm going to be a vegetarian, or if I'm going to eat more vegetables, I have to shop at the greenmarket. And if that's going to be the difference of what's stopping someone from eating more vegetables, I say just go to your local supermarket or greengrocer, and get that broccoli, it's okay.
Hetty McKinnon: I want people to feel like they can use canned beans, because in reality busy families, even if you're a busy single person, you don't have to have a family, just busy people, don't have time to cook chickpeas from scratch. You have to soak it 24 hours before you're going to cook it, and then it's another 45 to two hours of cooking. It's a long process, and from a practical point of view, I don't want that to be turning people off from making this amazing deconstructed falafel salad, if they think that, "Oh, I need to soak chickpeas".
Suzy Chase: Onto my segment called My Last Meal. What would you have for your last supper?
Hetty McKinnon: Would be probably ginger fried rice. Something like that, something that's direct from my childhood, that brings me ultimate comfort. Or a salad, probably like a childhood broccoli salad.
Suzy Chase: Where can we find you on the web and social media?
Hetty McKinnon: Okay. So you can find me on Instagram @hettymckinnon, just my full name spelt out, no dots or underscores. Or at my website, www.arthurstreetkitchen.com.
Suzy Chase: This has been terrific. Thanks so much, Hetty, for coming on Cookery By the Book podcast.
Hetty McKinnon: Thank you, Suzy. I'm so happy to talk to you.
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