salad; a cold dish of various mixtures of raw or cooked vegetables, usually seasoned with oil, vinegar, or other dressing and sometimes accompanied by meat, fish, or other ingredients.
Hetty is a fellow Aussie who grew up in South West Sydney in a very traditional Chinese household. When i asked her where her love of cooking comes from she answered “i didn’t really think about it at the time but i have fond memories of mum growing up and she was always cooking. The wok was always crackling, the exhaust fan was blasting and there was always the smell of something fabulous being cooked in the house”.
Every night they would feast on elaborate Cantonese style dinners consisting of rice and five to six different dishes. When Hetty eventually had her own kids that nurturing aspect of cooking, which she never realized was something that ran so deep, came back to her almost naturally.
“I can hardly think of what to cook for my kids half the time but the kind of stuff that mum would dish out every night was incredible and when i had my own family, food is what i went back to, I feel like i went back to doing something that i was always meant to be doing."
Hetty studied media and PR at university, which landed her a job in the beauty product industry and eventually she took those skills and moved with her husband to London where they lived and worked for several years. But after giving birth to her first child something shifted and she decided she didn’t want to be in PR or London any longer and it was time to move home. So Hetty quit her job and they moved back to Australia where she had a period of time in which she didn’t do anything but have babies (3 of them and very quickly!).
“I felt like it was such a luxury to be a women and have that natural break and not feel a massive pressure to go back to work. To use the time just to be a mother and cook for my family.”
And it was in that time that Arthur Street Kitchen was born.
How did you come up with the salad idea? "I was eating a lot of Ottolenghi type food and had this friend Gabby and we were obsessed with salads; we could talk about them all day and the different herbs and ingredients we could use. We would do Saturday morning walks together to our local grocer to get our veggies for the week. [It] came from that neighborhood walk as we would talk about what salads we were making that week and how you couldn’t really buy those kinds of salads around when i was like ‘Ok, i might just make some salads and take them around to people in the neighborhood’.”
And she did! Keeping the business small and personal with a “first come, first serve” philosophy, Hetty would email her menus out every Wednesday and people would email her back with their order, selling out in 10-15 minutes! She made about 80 salads a day ON HER OWN! and would deliver them on the back of her bike through the streets of Surry Hills. Amazing.
How did the 1st book come about? "Clients were saying 'you should write a cookbook' and every single week i would get 3 or 4 people saying 'omg can i have that recipe?'. I’d never written recipes before, i mean i’d cooked recipes but never really written them. It’s hard. It’s a skill. So i started writing recipes and emailing them to people and it just kind of unfolded from there".
Hetty self published her first book, COMMUNITY as a “complete vanity project”, expecting to have the books in her house for the rest of her life, moving all of her furniture just to accommodate them. The book was always meant just for the people that bought her salads. It was never meant to go beyond Surry Hills. But it was so successful that she sold out of her first edition of 1000 books in just 3 weeks! And when she was just about to publish a 2nd edition she was lucky enough to have been approached by Pan PacMillan (whom Hetty can’t praise enough) and they took over. The rest is now history!
COMMUNITY has done unbelievably well in Australia. It was Readings number 1 cookbook for a few years running (It even beat all of the Ottolenghi books!) and it was also recently shortlisted for the 2015 Australian Book Industry Awards in the category of Illustrated Book of the Year.
Hetty has since moved to Brooklyn and is about to take the US by storm! A second cookbook is due to come out later this year and she has just signed on to work from a kitchen in Williamsburg where she will be making salads for the locals once again. (to find out more, click HERE)
As i finally get to dig into the delicious salad we have been shooting all morning and lather a huge dollop of butter onto my bread, i ask Hetty what her take on dairy is... “I don’t believe in cutting anything out of your diet. Everything should be enjoyed in moderation”. I couldn’t agree more Hetty, couldn’t agree more!
5 minutes with Hetty
What is NYC to you? NYC is adventure and opportunity. This city never sleeps and neither does your mind when you are here. New York is a city of instant gratification - you can have whatever you want, at any and every hour of the day. You are in a constant state over over-stimulation here (but in the best possible way!) New York is energy and vibrancy. And it is culture - the museums, the galleries, the architecture, live performances - the world's best are here!
What is Sydney to you? Sydney is home and heart. It is warmth, sunshine, blue skies, boundless seas, and peace. It is friendly smiles and positive attitudes. It is chats with neighbours on the street corner. Flies and mosquito bites (argh!). It is effortlessly magnificent food. It is the best coffee in the world, served by the coolest baristas. It is summer coastal beach getaways and long drives where you find the bush which is a rugged brown you don't experience anywhere else in the world.
3 words that are important to you around food? Local, fresh, DELICIOUS
Weirdest thing you've ever cooked? Vegemite Brownies, of course (recipe on my blog).
Winter or Summer? Summer
Sweet or Savoury? Savoury (BY A MILE!!)
What would your last meal be? Something cooked by my mother. One of her nurturing dishes like congee, black sesame soup or her ginger fried rice. Or maybe just a block of Comte Cheese!
Favourite travel experience? So many! Travel and wandering experience is an obsession. When we lived in London, we traveled to many parts of Europe. But our favorite trip is still Turkey. We spent some time in Istanbul, before traveling through Gallipoli (an Aussie pilgrimage!) and then we spent an idyllic time down in Kas, a small fishing village on the Mediterranean coast. We ate delicious food, namely eggplant and manti, and sunbathed and swam in the ocean. Turkish people were so welcoming to Australians too.
And finally, you rode the streets of Surry Hills twice a week, delivering your salads. Any funny stories to tell? Ah, yes! Many funny stories. I was once contacted by a new customer who ordered lunch for his 'girlfriend' who was a regular customer of mine. Anyway, I was told it was a surprise. So I turned up and delivered the salad and brownie to my customer (who I knew well) who then told me that the person who ordered was actually an EX-boyfriend trying to make up. Over the years, I've had that experience a lot, where my salad deliveries were used as a way to impress lovers, a gesture from an admirer to their admired, or a way of nourishing a lost love. How hilarious and wonderful! Never a dull day on the bike for me!
photos taken by Morgan Ione Yeager at Hettys apartment in Brooklyn