“Meet Cult Cookbook Author Hetty McKinnon” Transcript
Gabriela Cámara: Hi. I'm Gabriela Cámara, and you're listening to Radio Cherry Bombe. You're the Bombe.
Kerry Diamond: Hi, Bombesquad. You're listening to Radio Cherry Bombe, and I'm your host, Kerry Diamond. Each week, we talk to the most inspiring women in and around the world of food.
Kerry Diamond: Let's thank our sponsor, Handsome Brook Farm pasture-raised organic eggs. Handsome Brook Farms' secret to making rich flavorful eggs is simple, the most possible space, the best possible feed, and lots of love. It's a healthy and humane recipe that makes your omelets, cakes, custards and everything in between taste better. Want to get cracking? Of course, you do. Visit handsomebrookfarm.com.
Kerry Diamond: All right, it's housekeeping time. The Radio Cherry Bombe Team is back on the road for our Food for Thought Tour, presented by Kerrygold. Check out cherrybombe.com for all the details and come hang out with us. We would love to see you as we bring Radio Cherry Bombe to life in cities across the country.
Kerry Diamond: Since summer is right around the corner, we're kicking off a fun sustainability project called Cone Only. When you visit an ice cream shop this summer, skip the cup and skip the spoon. Get a cone. It's zero waste. Be sure to take a picture for Instagram and use the hashtag Cone Only. We'll share all the best pictures of your cool scoops. Help spread the word and make this the most sustainable summer yet, and thank you to our project partners, the Surfrider Chapters in NYC and Long Island. That's #coneonly.
Kerry Diamond: Who's on today's show? It's the cult cookbook author from Australia, Hetty McKinnon. Hetty's newest book, Family, came out last month, and it's as warm and wonderful as she is. You can hear my conversation with Hetty right after this word from our sponsor.
Kerry Diamond: Handsome Brook Farm believes that organic and pastured is the way to go when it comes to eggs. Pasture raised means better lives for hens, better lives for small farmers, and better eggs for you. It's also better for chefs who depend on rich, flavorful eggs. Handsome Brook Farms own flock of amazing chefs, their Mother Hens, count on it.
Kerry Diamond: Einat Admony is a Mother Hen. She's also the celebrated chef behind Taim, Balaboosta, and Kish-Kash in Manhattan. Want to learn how Chef Einat whips up her red shakshuka, an aromatic spicy tomato sauce, into which she nestles eggs and lets them poach to perfection? You can find Chef Einat's middle eastern egg-centric recipes and videos on handsomebrookfarm.com. You can find their eggs at Publix, Kroger, Sprouts Farmers Market, Fresh Direct and many natural food stores across the country.
Kerry Diamond: Are you ready for Hetty? Here's our chat.
Kerry Diamond: Hetty, welcome to Radio Cherry Bombe.
Hetty McKinnon: Thanks for having me, Kerry.
Kerry Diamond: I don't even know where to begin, so we're just going to go back to when you were a kid, because that tends to be the easiest thing. Were you born in Australia?
Hetty McKinnon: I was born in Australia.
Kerry Diamond: Which part?
Hetty McKinnon: In Sydney.
Kerry Diamond: Oh, in Sydney.
Hetty McKinnon: Yes, suburban Sydney.
Kerry Diamond: What was life like for little Hetty?
Hetty McKinnon: It's funny, I've thought a lot about this as I've gotten older and as I've had my own kids. It was like a pretty, a very traditional Chinese upbringing. My parents are both from the south of China. They immigrated in... my dad, in his teens, my mom in her early 20's, so we... At home, it was Chinese. We spoke Chinese. We ate Chinese food. It was all Chinese customs and lighting incense every morning, and then I would go to school and I'd somehow have to be Australian, so that's something I've thought about a lot as I've gotten older.
Hetty McKinnon: I was caught in those, living in two worlds. My mom was... didn't really... didn't... actually, to this day, doesn't speak English very much at all, and she tried to assimilate the best she could, and my childhood was all about food, and my mom cooked all day and, if she wasn't cooking, she was shopping for food, preparing food for the next day, and she would make us these huge breakfasts, so it would be like fried rice or noodles or this macaroni dish that she used to do with pasta in a sauce, and so I'd get to school and really not want to eat for the rest of the day.
Hetty McKinnon: When I was in what we call infant school, which is like lower elementary school, the teachers would come to me and say, "Why didn't you bring some food for ... because we'd have a break at about 11:00? Why didn't you bring food for the little lunch?" and I didn't really know how to answer that, so they would give me money to buy little biscuits from the... what we call the canteen, because I thought that I was... maybe I was being neglected at home, but they didn't quite understand it. We had eaten this huge breakfast at 8:30 in the morning, so food was a huge part of growing up, which-
Kerry Diamond: Did your mom enjoy that?
Hetty McKinnon: She was an immigrant who never, never got a job, who never was... she finished school at 14, and I think there's a huge element of my mom who's... I think we're very much alike. She never had the chance to study or become that other person she... so, I think for her, being in the home, food was her domain. That was where she could really express herself and show her love to her family was through cooking.
Kerry Diamond: How did she wind up in Australia?
Hetty McKinnon: She went to Australia to marry my dad.
Kerry Diamond: Was it an arranged marriage?
Hetty McKinnon: Yeah, it was an arranged marriage.
Kerry Diamond: Wow.
Hetty McKinnon: Most of the marriages even in her generation were arranged, and it's funny because she had a choice of two men. She'd kill me if she knew I was telling this story, but she doesn't really understand, so that's okay. She had a choice of two men. One was in Sydney, and my dad's family was from the same village, so they knew of his family, and the other man was in Hawaii, and she chose my dad, but I guess there's an element of fate involved because my dad died actually when I was 15, and this man in Hawaii also died around a similar time, so it was almost like my mom was destined to be a widow, and even though she was in her... She was 44 when my dad died and, in many respects, she came into her own. She had to learn at that age to go to a bank for the first time, how to get around.
Hetty McKinnon: My dad used to drive her everywhere to go get her foods, so she'd go, "I have to... Oh, I now have to get on a bus or a train," sometimes both to get to that brand of tofu that she liked. It was an incredible... I was 15 at the time, so-
Kerry Diamond: How did that impact you, because you were the one who understood Australian life better?
Hetty McKinnon: I think it really underscored a lot of my childhood and probably who I am today is that great sense of... I mean, in Chinese culture, there's a big sense of responsibility for elders anyway, but I think, in our family, it was heightened, and probably more so for my brother and sister because they were older than me, and so they took on the responsibility of looking after her, so I was to... I was still at home, but I was still in high school, and she... I think she held everything in.
Hetty McKinnon: I know. I think I used to hear her crying in the bathroom, but she would never show us that she was sad or afraid because Chinese people love to keep face. You've got to show how brave you are outwardly, but I think that has really... I've always been very driven, but I think that maybe... That actually made me more driven because life is short, you've got to appreciate the people around you, and you have a short amount of time to make something happen.
Hetty McKinnon: I was always a very good kid, very responsible. I never really played. I did well at school. I went to university. I was the first person in my family to go to university and all that stuff, so I think that really did affect my relationship with my family and who I am today, that sense of responsibility, and I'm only really doing something if I think I'm going to be proud of it.
Kerry Diamond: That's a good way to go through life. Did you feel like you were living two different lives as a teenager?
Hetty McKinnon: Yes, absolutely, I mean, all through my life really, up until now. I think being in New York has been a really positive thing for me I think for the first time, and I guess being in food.
Kerry Diamond: How did you wind up in America?
Hetty McKinnon: I've always had this New York dream, not particularly American dream. Nothing against America.
Kerry Diamond: A lot of Australians have that dream.
Hetty McKinnon: Yeah, but then New York was always this... Even before it was that cool, I mean, my husband and I in our mid-20's wanted to come to New York. We came here on a vacation and just fell in love with New York, so we both entered the green card lottery, and in that time, my husband got an opportunity to move to London, so we thought, "Okay, we're probably never going to get this," and so we took the opportunity.
Hetty McKinnon: We arrived in London, and this was in the early 2000s, and my brother called one day and said, "Oh, Ross has a mail from Kentucky," and I'm like, "This is... You're kidding me." He'd won the green card lottery, but we had literally just landed in London. I didn't have any job yet, but he'd been moved over for a job, so we were like, "I can't... We can't take this. We have to stay in London," so we ended up staying up in London and, for four years, we loved it.
Hetty McKinnon: My oldest was actually born there, but then we decided to move back to Sydney, so, moving back to Sydney, I... it was a beautiful time, and that's when I fell into food, but my husband is a lawyer, so he got offered to come to New York and, at that particular time, I thought... He assumed that I wouldn't do it because Community, my first book, had just come out. It was doing really well, and I was at that point where I was just about to take the next step.
Hetty McKinnon: Arthur Street Kitchen was a business I ran at home, and I couldn't even handle the orders and everything that was coming at me, and I was just about at that junction to, "What do I do? Do I open a café?" I didn't really want to open a café, but I didn't know what the next step was, and so when he threw this New York dream at me, I was like, "Let's do it." I mean, three kids, I'm like... Kerry, I think there's a part of me that loves to start again, and I love... I've said this a few times. I really love the struggle. I love being at the bottom of the ladder and climbing and working towards something. I'm very uncomfortable with being... of getting to the top of the ladder, so I saw it as such an exciting opportunity just to like-
Kerry Diamond: You weren't harboring these dreams of being the next Donna Hay or something?
Hetty McKinnon: No. Never.
Kerry Diamond: Okay.
Hetty McKinnon: Never.
Kerry Diamond: Okay.
Hetty McKinnon: I love Donna Hay. I think she's just such a pioneer of everything like food, photography, styling.
Kerry Diamond: If you're listening and you don't know who Donna Hay is, please look her up. She's... I mean-
Hetty McKinnon: She's an icon.
Kerry Diamond: You could say she's the Martha Stewart of Australia...
Hetty McKinnon: Definitely.
Kerry Diamond: ... but, in a way, I feel like that's not fair because her aesthetic I think inspired so much of the American food scene, and people don't even know it.
Hetty McKinnon: I think she really changed the way food is photographed. That-
Kerry Diamond: 100%.
Hetty McKinnon: Yeah. I think, after her books came out, her early books, people were shocked, and I think then you started seeing blogs happen, and I think her style was the precursor to all of that.
Kerry Diamond: Yeah, her influence, she doesn't get the credit she deserves. Maybe she does in Australia, but, in America, she does not.
Hetty McKinnon: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: A lot of people don't even know about her.
Hetty McKinnon: Yeah. It's amazing.
Kerry Diamond: Yeah.
Hetty McKinnon: Some people in the food industry have asked about her, but, yeah, she's pretty big in Australia.
Kerry Diamond: We would love to have her come to Jubilee or something when you're-
Hetty McKinnon: She would love that.
Kerry Diamond: Oh, you could interview her.
Hetty McKinnon: Yeah, I'd love that.
Kerry Diamond: That would be fun. Let's make that happen.
Hetty McKinnon: Yes, for sure.
Kerry Diamond: I'm putting that out in the universe like Padma and Madhur. That's been in the works for a long time, and we could just never make schedules work, and now it's happening.
Hetty McKinnon: Oh, that's amazing. I used to deliver to Donna's office actually.
Kerry Diamond: You did?
Hetty McKinnon: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: Oh, that's fun.
Hetty McKinnon: The editor of her magazine, she actually lives in... She lived in Carroll Gardens for a while, but, now, she's in Easton, Melanie Hansche.
Kerry Diamond: Oh, I think I've met her. Yeah.
Hetty McKinnon: Yeah, she's lovely.
Kerry Diamond: She might have been the one who told me about you.
Hetty McKinnon: Oh, probably.
Kerry Diamond: Is that possible? Yeah.
Hetty McKinnon: Yes. Yes.
Kerry Diamond: Okay, so we have to go back because you've said all these things that you do. You're in London. You go back to Sydney. When did Arthur Street Kitchen start? Tell us the timeline of the books, the business, all that.
Hetty McKinnon: Yes. I used to work in PR, so, when I was in Australia, and then I went to London. I worked in a PR agency, and my oldest was born in London, and... I knew straight away I didn't really want to go back to that life. I wanted to move back to Sydney. I had this great calling to be close to my mom, so I did that, and then I had two more children in very quick succession. They're all under two years apart. I have three children, and, for many years, I just was in a daze. I don't know what I'm doing. I was so tired all the time, and then when my third child was about one, I... it was like the kind of time... I was freelancing again for a PR agency.
Kerry Diamond: I love that admission that, for a few years, you were in a daze.
Hetty McKinnon: I had no idea. I still don't remember much of the kids when they were babies. My mom tells me it will come back later on life, but I'm still waiting, because you're living in the now. When you have children, it's all about now, like how could get through the next two hours or whatever? It's joyous, too. It's not all bad, but it's hard.
Hetty McKinnon: I was offered a job when my child was... when my youngest was one and... in PR, and, for me, that was really crunch time. Like do I go back on the road that I was already traveling down or do I take a far left turn? I was really grasping. I think I was grasping a little bit. I was like, "Oh, I really like cooking."
Hetty McKinnon: During the time that my kids were young, every time they went down for a nap, I would get out Ottolenghi's book and... his original book, not even Plenty, which is the one I love, but his original book, and I just learn... His recipes are really complicated, so they would take me hours, but the good thing about that is that I would learn a lot about flavor. He would do things like toast the coriander seeds and the cumin seeds and then put it in a mortar and pestle and then grind it up. I will admit, I don't do that now. I would just use pre-ground coriander seeds and pre-ground cumin.
Kerry Diamond: You're a monster. You use pre-ground cumin? Oh, my God.
Hetty McKinnon: Terrible, right?
Kerry Diamond: I'm kidding.
Hetty McKinnon: I learned a lot about flavor. I learned a lot about technique and how to put things together, and so, from that point, I really love cooking, and, before that, even if I grew up with food all around me, I was never... I never loved cooking like that. I wasn't-
Kerry Diamond: You weren't helping your mom.
Hetty McKinnon: I wasn't because, in Chinese culture, you really don't. You observe. I asked her once how she learned to cook, and she said, "Oh, I just stood in a corner and watched," her elders, so it would be her aunts and late great aunt. They all lived together. I didn't really cook when I was younger. In my late teens, I became a vegetarian, so I would-
Kerry Diamond: Because?
Hetty McKinnon: Oh, look, I think it was mainly a taste thing. I remember smelling... My dad was having a barbecue when I was in my younger teens, and I remember being repulsed by the smell of it, but, now, my vegetarianism, it's not something I should from the rooftops like, "All my food is vegetarian," but I also want my food to be inclusive, so I don't brand it as vegetarian food really.
Hetty McKinnon: I am trying to change people's ways though by showing people how to cook really delicious vegetarian food. It's going to have less impact on the environment. The less meat that's eaten, the better it is, so that's my long-term legacy, Kerry, is getting there with... getting people to eat more delicious vegetarian food, getting back to Arthur Street Kitchen.
Hetty McKinnon: At that point, I decided, look, maybe... I had just had this crazy idea one day with a friend. I was like, "Oh, I might actually just start making like salads and putting them in a box and just take... delivering them around the neighborhood. Do you think that's what... Do you think that's a good idea?" because the area where I lived, it was a place called Surry Hills in Sydney. It's like the food capital of Sydney. It's got all the best restaurants. People were like, "Yeah. Yeah, I don't think you can buy salads around here, not, not takeaway salads," so I just started it. It was on a whim. There was no business plan, no real long-term goals at all. I just ordered boxes and started making exactly the type of food that I was making for myself.
Kerry Diamond: Did you know about things like cost of goods, those kinds of things?
Hetty McKinnon: Oh, nothing.
Kerry Diamond: Yeah.
Hetty McKinnon: Nothing. I mean-
Kerry Diamond: It's like when we interviewed the Granola Girls and they were like making their first batches of granola and buying the best honey, the best this and that, and they were like, "Cost of goods, 100%."
Hetty McKinnon: I would buy really expensive ingredients, I think, to this day. The funny thing about Arthur Street Kitchen is that it was an accidental business. It was never meant to be a business, and I still now struggle to call it a business, so, when I write about or people ask me questions, to call it a business just feels wrong because it wasn't why I did it. I just love to cook and I just love to feed people, and so the joy that I saw on people's faces when I delivered the salad to their door was... That was what fueled me. It was never about collecting the money or... I didn't have... It was very spontaneous. I would email a menu on a Wednesday and people would just email me with what they wanted, so it was-
Kerry Diamond: That sounds so nice.
Hetty McKinnon: Through the business, I taught myself to cook because I couldn't really... I wasn't... I'm not a trained chef. Everything is... I know is through just cooking myself. I didn't know how to write recipes back then. It was just all just by accident and just taking chances and taking risks and seeing what worked, what didn't. Some salads were better than others and-
Kerry Diamond: How did the cookbook come... the first cookbook come about?
Hetty McKinnon: About a year into delivering salads, people would ask me, "Oh, I really want to make that orange, blood orange dressing, this weekend for friends. Can you send me the recipe?" so I'd go home. There was no recipe, but then I had to teach myself to write recipes, and so I would write recipes and email them.
Hetty McKinnon: I was doing that for many months, maybe a year, and then there was this one day, it was like the turning point, when I was delivering salads. People would say to me, "You should write a cookbook," and it was this one day when four different people said it to me for no apparent reason. It was like a happy coincidence, and so I went home, I was like, "I'm going to write a cookbook," so I worked on this. I wrote. I had to, in that process, teach myself how to write a recipe, teach myself about having my own health style, all these elements that you take for granted when you're just in the kitchen cooking, how to write a recipe that makes sense.
Hetty McKinnon: As a home cook, I guess, I was probably at an advantage because I understood what it's like to cook in a home kitchen, and so, over a year, I wrote these recipes and... I mean, a lot of these is... I think serendipity serendipity is the word to really sum up almost everything that's happened to me in my career, I'll use career as in... air quotes, because things just happened just at the right time.
Kerry Diamond: I feel the same way about my life.
Hetty McKinnon: Yeah. It's incredible. Just I would finish my manuscript, there was... There's an Australian online newspaper called Broadsheet, and they said, "We want to do a story about you," so they sent a photographer called Luisa Brimble, and she works-
Kerry Diamond: I've heard of her.
Hetty McKinnon: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: She did our... that cookbook we love, Wild.
Hetty McKinnon: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely, and she walks in, and she said, she started... I was cutting sweet potato, which is her favorite vegetable, and she was just... I think you've met her. She's so colorful, and she's just, "I want to shoot a cookbook. Let's, let's do it," and she was so excited. I've never met her before, and I was like, "Yeah. Actually, I've just finished writing a manuscript," and she literally went home.
Hetty McKinnon: She'd never shot a cookbook before this. Photography was still quite new to her at that stage, and she sent me a schedule. She said, "This is when I'm free in the next two months," and we just did it. She came over. We had no idea what we were doing. It was in my... all in my house. I didn't have a stylist, and she said, "Oh, I've got, I've got a message from this girl. Her name's Erica, and she wants to come to help us on the shoot," and it wasn't that she wasn't meant to be the stylist. I was like, "Okay, she can come," so Erica turned up first day. She ended up styling the whole book and my other two books, too, so it's the same team. We've been together for many years now.
Kerry Diamond: That's wonderful. Did you decide to try to find the publisher, because you self-published the first book?
Hetty McKinnon: Yes. No. See, again, Kerry, it was never meant to be this book. It was meant to be just for my customers, but because I love paper and I love printed, I love books, so I thought I'm going to do it properly, so I went... I almost spent six months researching paper, having meetings, getting quotes, getting mock-ups, samples made, dummy books made up with this paper stock that I wanted, and then I found this printer in Hong Kong that I worked with, and I was really happy, so I just thought, "I'm just going to do this myself." It's a vanity project, let's be honest. I printed a thousand copies, and I thought I'm going to have these in my living room for the-
Kerry Diamond: It was almost like a marketing tool for you?
Hetty McKinnon: Yeah. My life, I'm going to have these. I priced it at $38 because eight is a lucky number, and, no, I don't think any publisher would ever price something at $38. That had a meaning to me. It was like I could all these things and it was just this wonderful... The whole experience was just so fun, and we had a great team of women working on it. It was just sweet. It was wonderful, and so, somehow, the book comes out and it sold out in three weeks.
Kerry Diamond: That's great.
Hetty McKinnon: It's was featured on this Australian design website called The Design Files, and I think they featured my recipes three weeks and, every week after they featured, I would sell 300 books.
Kerry Diamond: Wow, that's a lot.
Hetty McKinnon: Yeah. It was very powerful. This was in 2013, I think, it first came out, and then I had all these orders, and I had no more books, and then I was, "Oh, my goodness, what am I going to do?" I was about to press reorder. I was about to send that email when, out of the blue, I got a call.
Hetty McKinnon: It was actually a phone call from a woman called Mary Small, and she'd seen my book at her friend's house, who... and that friend was not someone that I really knew very well. It was a man that she had an office with one of my customers in Surry Hills, and he had taken the book home, or I'd given him a copy or something in my... on my salad run, and she'd seen it at his house, and it turns out he was... He'd worked in publishing for many years. Mary was one of his colleagues. Mary worked in Melbourne. She had come to Sydney, stayed at his house, seen the book, took the book, this is all without me knowing, taken the book to her publishing meeting, sold the book to the company, that's Pan Macmillan, it's a big publisher, and the rest is history.
Hetty McKinnon: That book went a little crazy. It really just took off. It really changed the landscape of what a salad is in Australia. People in Australia listening right now, Kerry, are all going to be nodding their heads in recognition. It's like an Australian classic. It sold upwards of 80,000 copies.
Kerry Diamond: Wow. Amazing.
Hetty McKinnon: This is just in Australia. It's never been released anywhere else, so I love it that way because-
Kerry Diamond: Can you buy it here in America?
Hetty McKinnon: No. It's-
Kerry Diamond: You can only buy it Australia.
Hetty McKinnon: It's only ever been released-
Kerry Diamond: Nobody has ever picked it up here?
Hetty McKinnon: It's on Amazon.
Kerry Diamond: Okay.
Hetty McKinnon: I think people have bought it and are selling it on the black market I guess, but it's not... It's not really-
Kerry Diamond: The black market of cookbooks.
Hetty McKinnon: Yeah, the black market of Community, but that book really changed my life. Before that, I never thought I would write cookbooks. I never thought so many people would love salads. I never thought so many people would love vegetarian salads, but the stories that I've heard from people in Australia is just... it actually is... It's really humbling to know that so many people have welcomed you into their home. That's how I feel about that book. It's so special to me because of that story, that everything, that happy accident, and then so many people are like... It's been word of mouth. I don't see myself as ever being a celebrity in Australia. I'd never had a TV show. I never ... this was-
Kerry Diamond: Do people know what you look like over there? Do you get stopped?
Hetty McKinnon: When I was Sydney, the last time I worked, I did get stopped once, but it was because I was outside my old house, and actually the girl walking past had a copy of my book. She'd just gone to buy it. This was Family, because Family came out a few months ago in Australia, but not really. I'm not like a household face or anything, so, for a book that's by, I still say, oh, unknown author, to have that traction and that resonance all across Australia, city, country, old, young, it's-
Kerry Diamond: Everything.
Hetty McKinnon: It's been amazing. It's like a phenomenon.
Kerry Diamond: Why did you leave Australia?
Hetty McKinnon: I wanted to try the concept in New York. I wanted to try delivering salads in Brooklyn. I pointedly came to Brooklyn. I thought it was more me, and I did... for the first year, I met with a lot of... People were so kind when I arrived. I had a lot of coffee dates and everyone was really willing to meet with me, and that's what I find about New York. I mean, everyone is very open to helping, and so I thought maybe I'll open a café, maybe I'll... I did do salad deliveries for a while.
Kerry Diamond: How'd that go?
Hetty McKinnon: It's different. It's really different because I couldn't cook from home. In Sydney, I was registered as a home kitchen, so I could. I did it legally, but, here, I work from Foodworks, what was Pilotworks in... It was Foodworks originally, so I was one of the first people that signed on there, and it was really tough. I'm going to be honest, it was not the same to cook from a commercial kitchen. I don't drive, so... I wouldn't drive here. I don't have a car, so I would get on the subway with all my salads that I'd made at the commercial kitchen, bring them back home, put them on my bike and cycle them around Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill.
Kerry Diamond: That could take your life and your hands when you ride a bike in New York City.
Hetty McKinnon: Exactly. I almost died several times.
Kerry Diamond: Yeah.
Hetty McKinnon: Maybe people in Sydney have more time, but I was... I would... What I love about Arthur Street Kitchen was the chats. We would stand on the doorstep and talk for 10 minutes and then-
Kerry Diamond: The first time I ever went to Sydney was with Laura Brown, and we went... What's the main park where the Sydney Opera is?
Hetty McKinnon: Oh, Botanic Garden.
Kerry Diamond: Botanic Gardens, and it's so beautiful, and kookaburras.
Hetty McKinnon: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: That's the name of the bird.
Hetty McKinnon: Yeah, yeah, kookaburra. Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: Everybody was jogging, and I said to Laura, "Are all these people unemployed? Like they're jogging, and it's lunchtime," and she was like, "No. That's what people do here."
Hetty McKinnon: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: I was like, "Wow," because there were just so many people out jobbing. I was like, "That's incredible." I mean, I think things have changed in New York because lunch options are better, and now you've got Sweetgreen and Dig Inn and Tender Greens, and you've got really good lunch... Shake Shack, really good lunch choices.
Hetty McKinnon: Yeah. Absolutely.
Kerry Diamond: At least in New York, I do feel there's this new culture of going out for lunch, whereas people used to sit at their desks and never leave. Yeah, it just seemed like a lot healthier in Sydney in so many respects that people are actually taking time at lunch to take care of themselves.
Hetty McKinnon: Yeah, it's a lot less intense. I knew that, a lot of the time, this was going to be their only break, and so me delivering their salad, talking to me on their doorstep was going to be their only break for the whole day, so I would think about that when I made the salads. I would think about health. They need their vegetables. They need a grain to keep them full. That's the genesis of how I'd come up with the recipes, and it was all from this nurturing viewpoint. It's like I really want them to be full, and that's probably like my Chinese side. Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: It goes back to those breakfasts your mom made for you when you were a little kid.
Hetty McKinnon: Yeah, I really want people to be satiated, and so that's how those recipes came about so.
Kerry Diamond: Your next cookbook you mentioned is out in Australia, but it's coming out here.
Hetty McKinnon: Neighborhood was my second book. My publisher has actually asked me literally on the eve. My house was all packed up in Sydney, and they said, "We want you to write the second book," and I'm like, "Well, I'm about to fly out." We actually left Sydney. We traveled around Europe for two months, and so I was like, "I don't think I'm ready to really commit." I knew I wanted to write the second book, and, finally enough, I knew it was called Neighborhood before I had the concept of what was going inside, and so, when I arrived in New York and we moved into Carroll Gardens, I thought, "Wow, this is pretty fitting," and so I let myself... so that's what I did.
Hetty McKinnon: I arrived in that very cold winter of 2015. It was too cold to go outside. My youngest hadn't started school yet, so he was at home, and I just wrote for three months. This book just poured out of me. Three months, I just wrote every single recipe, and it was... Some of it was leftover of my recipes from my deliveries in Sydney, a lot of it when I was in France. We were in France for about a month, and I got so inspired by just shopping from the market and going home and not really having a recipe in mind, but just cooking from whatever fresh produce we got, and it really showed a different side of what you can achieve, like that shop local concept of not really having preconceived recipes, but allowing your environment to dictate what you're going to cook. In many respects, that's what Neighborhood was about. It was like surrendering to your surrounds
Hetty McKinnon: We eat differently here, of course. I mean, we live in a neighborhood that's very Italian-focused. I mean, I've never eaten so much mozzarella in my life, but why not? That's what the locals eat. That's what's at our fingertips. I like to not have to travel a long way to get my food, so it's like allowing your environment to affect what you're eating, which I think is a very... It's a smart way to eat really.
Kerry Diamond: Tell us about Family, your new cookbook.
Hetty McKinnon: Family is my first book of non... that is not 100% salads. I call it vegetarian comfort food. It's a bit heavier in respect that there's lots of eggs, and there's a whole egg chapter, because egg is something I grew up with eating and still eat a lot of. There's more cheese, so how the book came about was, about 18 months ago, I stopped cooking meat at home. My kids are not vegetarian. They were brought up meat-eaters, and I found that I was cooking three different meals, and I'm like, "This is crazy."
Kerry Diamond: Mom as short order cook.
Hetty McKinnon: Yeah, or I would like customize things for each child, and I was like, "Okay, now, it's enough." They can eat what I eat, but I realized that children don't always want to eat a salad that's got four different types of herbs in them, which is how I would make a salad, and so I approached a bunch of recipes with how am I going to scale this back to make it more approachable, and it's not about cooking for kids. It's not about cooking with kids. It's just about creating recipes that are crowd pleasers, that people, a lot of different palates would love, and so I came up with this set of recipes which some are recipes I've cooked for many years for my kids like the Gozleme recipe which we just ate.
Hetty McKinnon: Yeah, I just thought, "What are the recipes that my family is going to be able to eat every night?" and this is what Family is. That's on the superficial level of the book. When you dive deeper down, it's me trying to recreate the feeling that I had as a child, of sitting down at the table every night. That was the most constant thing in our house.
Hetty McKinnon: My dad worked at the markets, the fruit markets, and so he got up very early, so we'd have very early dinners, 5:00 p.m. My mom would yell and kick and scream and make us all come to the table, and it was a constant of my life, and so I was thinking to myself... and particularly after I moved to America, I realized a lot of people don't cook and eat together, and when I started looking at the statistics of how many meals are eaten in the car, for example...
Kerry Diamond: Oh, gosh, yeah.
Hetty McKinnon: ... it's a huge statistic. 40% of meals are eaten in the car. That's probably not the exact statistic, but it was high, and I started to think to myself, "Wow, there is a whole generation of families who are missing out on that important mealtime," and it doesn't need to be children, it can be friends, but there's something about sitting down at the table that is such a great equalizer. It's your time to just talk and laugh.
Hetty McKinnon: We used to have arguments at the table in my family, but it's all that. It's what makes us human is that interaction, and so that's the deeper side of the book is really giving people recipes, and they're not really... They're simple recipes, giving people recipes that they can... that are crowd-pleasing and encouraging people to eat together again. It doesn't matter who that's with.
Kerry Diamond: I love that your trilogy is Community, Neighborhood, Family.
Hetty McKinnon: It's getting smaller.
Kerry Diamond: It's getting smaller, but it says a lot about you as a person that those are the titles of your three books.
Hetty McKinnon: For me, it's always the recipes are almost secondary to the story. For me, every recipe is a story in itself. There's a reason why I would put that in a book. There's a reason why I would cook it. They all mean something to me, so I'm very much story-driven, and, usually, the name of the book is the first thing that comes to me.
Kerry Diamond: I want to hear about your vinaigrettes and your dressings because I think that's what trips up a lot of people, and I'm always amazed that people buy bottled salad dressing.
Hetty McKinnon: Oh, I don't understand it, not when you have olive oil and lemon at your fingertips. Everybody has that. I mean, that's a dressing in itself. I love dressings. I think dressings really make a salad, and I think I'm pretty... People love my dressing, too. I mean, I do some pretty crazy things with dressings, and I almost don't have... You don't have a lot of cookbooks that has a dressing section.
Hetty McKinnon: I tailor every dressing to every salad, so... and that's probably just really harking back to my days of actually making salads and delivering them. The dressing is the story. The dressing is what makes... what brings the ending to the story, the happy ending, so I do a lot of... Let's have a thing. I mean, tahini is probably one of my favorite dressings.
Kerry Diamond: Tell us how you can whip that into a dressing.
Hetty McKinnon: I actually have a hack in Family that's like ... this is a quick every night... so there's a lot of tailored dressings, but if you don't have a lot of time, I will just put tahini with enough water, because it seizes. I think a lot of people freak out with tahini because, when you add the water content to it, because the water and then the oil content is out of whack, it will seize, so you just keep adding the water and it will come back smooth, so I'll do that with, I don't know, a tiny clove of minced garlic and some lemon. That's probably one of my all-time favorite dressings. It just feels like exotic when you add that in, and I always... I'll add salt and pepper.
Hetty McKinnon: Salt is my favorite food so. I think, in vegetarian cooking, it's all about building layers, and that's one of the really important things about any cooking really, but particularly vegetables is you need to add the seasoning at every point, so, at the roasting, add the seasoning. At the, I don't know, pan frying, add the seasoning.
Kerry Diamond: Be tasting always.
Hetty McKinnon: Always.
Kerry Diamond: Alice Waters always talks about that. Taste. Taste. Taste.
Hetty McKinnon: Yeah. Yeah, and one of my other favorite things is to really... I do a lot of Asian dressings, and so I like to... I do a lot of mashups. One of my favorite dressings, it's actually in Neighborhood, which is the second book, is a mashup of tahini with Hoisin sauce, and it's the strangest combination, but that's a direct ripoff from dimsum because the Chinese serve Chinese sesame sauce with Hoisin, so two... It's on separate sides of the plate, and you have rice noodles with it, so... and I think I serve that with Brussels sprouts or something so.
Kerry Diamond: I was going through my pantry the other night. I have a bottle of pomegranate molasses that I have neglected.
Hetty McKinnon: Oh, yeah.
Kerry Diamond: How do I turn that into a salad dressing?
Hetty McKinnon: I don't usually use that in a salad dressing. I usually use it on the top of vegetables, so, after you've roasted vegetables, I would do like sprinkling the pomegranate molasses on the top. It's very good with eggplant, so I have-
Kerry Diamond: Oh, I wouldn't have thought of that. Okay.
Hetty McKinnon: Yeah, I have a recipe in my first book, Community, and people in Australia again will be nodding their heads, it's a baba ghanoush with eggplant, and it has the... I sprinkle the pomegranate molasses over the top with walnuts. It's delicious.
Kerry Diamond: We may have to make that here for lunch one day. Yum.
Hetty McKinnon: Do you have an open flame, because I like to do the eggplant on them?
Kerry Diamond: Yeah. No open flame. I mean, we have a stove top.
Hetty McKinnon: Yeah, that'll work.
Kerry Diamond: Okay. Okay.
Hetty McKinnon: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: No real open flame though. Yeah. Do you have a barbecue...
Hetty McKinnon: I do.
Kerry Diamond: ... at your place.
Hetty McKinnon: I have a barbecue.
Kerry Diamond: Oh, a bar-b.
Hetty McKinnon: Oh, the bar-b is essential to me because I cook a lot of vegetables on the bar-b. One of my signatures from the first book is the char-grilled broccoli, and a lot of men loved that salad because it revolutionized how you can cook vegetable. I don't know if they have it in America, but, in Australia, there's this real hierarchy of the barbecue, and the men like to go out to the barbecue and stand around the barbecue and they're doing their meat, but I think it's funny to imagine the men standing there with the broccoli, turning broccoli.
Kerry Diamond: I think we can have that in America, too, the whole stereotype of the barbecue.
Hetty McKinnon: Yeah. Totally.
Kerry Diamond: I think we can use it. Okay, a few other things we didn't even get to, you have a magazine, tell everyone about your magazine.
Hetty McKinnon: It's called Peddler Journal. It's a multicultural food magazine. It's a recipe-driven magazine, and I started that in 2017, and it draws on memory and tradition. It's very different to other magazines because it's not really current. It's not about trends. It doesn't really have chefs in there at all. For me, it's about reverting to the home.
Hetty McKinnon: Home cooking is really what's inspiring me right now, and I think the reason for that is because I'm away from home. I'm away from my mom and I'm away from the foods that I grew up eating. Whenever I have been away from home, I feel this great pull back to my roots and back to the traditions that I grew up with, so Peddler really... I always wondered whether I would've started it if I still lived in Australia because I wouldn't have that pull. Here, it's... I'm really reaching for the memories and the traditions and the rituals of home cooking, and so that's really what Peddler is about. It's about really small stories.
Kerry Diamond: Where can people find it?
Hetty McKinnon: Peddlerjournal.com, but it's also in many countries in the world. The stockists will all be on the website.
Kerry Diamond: Then, lastly, tell us about your beautiful space at the block.
Hetty McKinnon: I have space called Neighborhood Studio. That's on Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill. I always say this is like the physical manifestation of what I do. It's where I can photograph food, and it has a big test kitchen, so I do... My Family was photographed a 100% in that studio. People just rent it from us. We have a fully operational kitchen, a huge, kitchen island, great for shooting video, cooking videos, and we also have a proper library which people can rent from us, and we also have a dining room, so we do a lot of popup dinners there.
Kerry Diamond: Very cool. Okay, Hetty, ready for this speed round?
Hetty McKinnon: Okay. I'm ready. I'm ready, Kerry.
Kerry Diamond: Okay. Most loved kitchen utensil?
Hetty McKinnon: It would be my mom's wok. It's 40 years old.
Kerry Diamond: Wow.
Hetty McKinnon: Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: How do you take care of it?
Hetty McKinnon: It has to be just be burnt after every... so you don't wash with any detergent. You wipe it out and then you put the water in. You just rinse it out with water. You put it on the stove top, and then you burn the water off.
Kerry Diamond: Very interesting.
Hetty McKinnon: That's what I do.
Kerry Diamond: Okay. Most treasured cookbook?
Hetty McKinnon: Oh, that's so hard. I have a humongous collection, so many. I would maybe say the cookbook I always turn to when I want inspiration is Breakfast, Lunch, and Tea by Rose Bakery.
Kerry Diamond: A song that makes you smile?
Hetty McKinnon: Oh, I'm an '80s freak because that's showing my age, and '80s music is cool again to my children, so it's something by George Michael because he's my man, Careless Whisper. I'm going to say Careless Whisper. Everyone's going to laugh at that.
Kerry Diamond: Love it. Dream vacation destination?
Hetty McKinnon: Oh, surf out of the Maldives this morning, and I was... I always... My dream is to go somewhere and stay in those overwater bungalows.
Kerry Diamond: Me, too, like the Fiji, right? Yep.
Hetty McKinnon: That is the Fiji, Tahiti, Maldives. That's my dream.
Kerry Diamond: Call me if you need someone to go with.
Hetty McKinnon: Yeah, Kerry, you and me.
Kerry Diamond: All right, last question, if you had to be stranded on a desert island with any food celebrity, who would it be and why?
Hetty McKinnon: Oh, look, I'm going to say Nigella...
Kerry Diamond: Yeah, a good one.
Hetty McKinnon: ... because I want Nigella to bring one of her books and just read from start to finish because I just love the way she writes...
Kerry Diamond: ... and her voice.
Hetty McKinnon: ... and her voice.
Kerry Diamond: She has such a great voice. Yes.
Hetty McKinnon: Everything. It's just the full package so.
Kerry Diamond: She would need a lot of sunscreen though. You would be the one out...
Hetty McKinnon: I would be sunning.
Kerry Diamond: ... collecting food...
Hetty McKinnon: I'm fine. Yeah.
Kerry Diamond: ... and things like that.
Hetty McKinnon: That's right.
Kerry Diamond: Yeah. Okay.
Hetty McKinnon: She can read to me in the... I would build her a little alcove with sticks. She can read her books to me.
Kerry Diamond: That's it for today's show. Thank you to Hetty McKinnon for stopping by Cherry Bombe HQ and for bringing us such an incredible lunch. Hetty made us some beautiful food from her new cookbook, Family. Be sure to check it out.
Kerry Diamond: Thank you to the excellent folks at Handsome Brook Farm pasture-raised organic eggs for supporting this season of Radio Cherry Bombe. Don't forget our Cone Only project. Skip the cup and skip the spoon when getting ice cream this summer. Put less garbage into the world. Go Cone Only. Radio Cherry Bombe is a production of Cherry Bombe Media. Our theme song is All Fired Up by the band Tralala, and our show is edited, engineered and produced by Jess Zeidman.
Kerry Diamond: Thanks for listening, everybody. You're the Bombe.
When Harry Met Sally Clip: I'll have what she's having.
Emma Glubiak: Hi. My name is Emma Glubiak, and I work in social media at Apartment Therapy and The Kitchn. Who do I think is the Bombe? It's my boss here at The Kitchn, Kaitlin Garske, who runs all of our social media, because she's not only built an amazing personal brand for herself, but she's also a strong, confident woman to look up to as a role model in my first job. (singing)