Hetty McKinnon is the chef, blogger and author behind Arthur Street Kitchen. Originally from Sydney and now based in Brooklyn, we have loved following her story over the years along with her recipes which focus on locally sourced, seasonal produce and creating healthy yet hearty salads to be enjoyed with family and friends. We have also always been a big fan of Hetty's approach to food styling which is beautifully relaxed and usually includes an abundance of colourful ingredients plated on organic shaped ceramics.
A big thank-you to Hetty for taking the time to chat to us and for sharing her imagery which just so happens to feature Robert Gordon pottery!
When did your love of food begin?
My love of food began at home. Growing up, my mother was not only a tremendous cook, but more importantly, she was a feeder. She spent all her days creating food to nourish her family. In the mornings, she would cook three different breakfasts for my siblings and myself, depending on what each of us liked. She was relentless in her pursuit of making us happy via food. Of course, we were happy kids a lot of the time! Our family table is the source of so many happy memories – abundant food, lively conversation, and the sound of clanging of dishes that signify that a meal is being enjoyed.
Favourite New York neighbourhood?
New York really is a city of neighbourhoods. Each has its own distinct personality, history and story. In Brooklyn, my neighbourhood of Carroll Gardens is pretty special. It is a magical part of the city, with a strong Italian backstory, set amongst looming brownstones, deep fronted gardens, friendly stoops, and street-side conversations. I adore it’s close proximity to lower Manhattan, its sense of space and intimacy, the creative residents, and most of all, the old school Italian delis that dish out handmade mozzarella three or four times a day.
In Manhattan, I have a soft spot for Chinatown and nearby Lower East Side. In fact, I spend a lot of time there, wandering the slightly ramshackle streets, and absorbing the colorful sights, heady aromas and bustling sounds of hard-working neighborhoods. Here, I feel like you can still find old New York – gentrification is happening but there is a strong sense of community and connection in these areas. It’s a unique part of the city.
What makes a great salad?
A great salad tells a story. And to do this, you need to introduce characters and storylines that make sense! I make a salad by building layers upon layers of flavour. Starting with a delicious vegetable, you can take that ingredient almost anywhere. Think about the theme – for example, are you going to go Middle Eastern, Italian, Greek, French, or Asian – and then add a protein, grain or legume to provide heartiness. Next I will think of a well-balanced dressing – it could be tahini based, a vinaigrette, pesto or something richer like a whipped feta. Add a leaf such as baby spinach, baby kale or rocket for freshness, and choose some punchy soft herbs to bring the story together. Finally, top the salad with crunch – a nut, seed, dukkah or crispy onions.
Top food styling tips when plating up?
For styling, I like to keep it simple. My salads tend to be very colourful, so I like neutral toned ceramics – creams, earthy tones and greys – that allow the vegetables shine. And always strive for abundance. Allow the plates to look generous and welcoming. I’m veering away from creating “scenes” of dining – where there are artfully scattered crumbs, leaves and branches, and overzealous props – and rather opting for more natural settings. I love just choosing one beautiful, classic plate and piling it high with colourful ingredients.
What do you look for when purchasing dinnerware?
I’m such a big fan of dinnerware. I am always looking for beautiful, understated, natural-hued ceramics that marry seamlessly with my style of big, colourful salads. The most beautiful dinnerware are the pieces that are simple, and timeless; the plates or bowls which allow you to see your food first, but then surprise you as make your way through your meal. I particularly love the handmade look, with an organic shape that is not quite perfect.