“People love talking to the person who’s made their food,” says Hetty McKinnon, the one-woman show behind Arthur Street Kitchen. When we chat over the phone on a Monday, she is already preparing for her Thursday and Friday lunches, sifting through recipes and looking online at what is fresh, in season and available that week from her grocer.
Arthur Street Kitchen is a lunchtime delivery service, making fresh, healthy salads and sweets for locals and delivering them to customers’ doors – a “community kitchen” that has been making packed lunches for locals for just over a year now.
“It was all word of mouth but I started to cook and deliver and I wasn’t sure how it would work out,” McKinnon says of her home cooking venture. But locals have remained hungry for it.
“My food ideas come from everywhere,” says McKinnon. “Some are salads which I've been cooking for years at home. Others are inspired by classic dishes I love, many of which I deconstruct into a salad. For example, I recently deconstructed Borscht soup into a beetroot salad with dill, creme fraiche and walnuts; or the minestrone salad with roasted vegetables and a basil cream. But most of the time, I am inspired by just a vegetable which is in season.”
When she has decided on her weekly menu (two salads per day), McKinnon sends out an email to subscribers and publishes the dishes on her site for lunch deliveries on Thursday and Friday for up to 40 people per day.
“My menus are constantly changing because the are really inspired by my food musings,” she says. “I am prone to become quite obsessed by a vegetable or making quite a particular dish. Recently, I really wanted to make baba ghanoush, so I created a new dish around this – roast cauliflower with Persian red lentils, baby spinach and baba ghanoush. I guess many of the recipes are a bit of an outlet for me. I like to think about food, then cook it, so Arthur Street Kitchen allows me to do this!”
Salads are prepared using an abundance of basic raw ingredients. Think big bunches of radishes, rich green cavolo nero and herbs mixed with more unassuming vegetables such as cauliflower and eggplant and foods rich in vegetables and pulses. Her food is not strictly vegetarian. “I don’t really want to put labels on things, but I am a vegetarian myself, so it’s easy for me to cook like this,” McKinnon says as I come to collect my lunch one Friday morning (I’m outside the delivery zone). Winter salads this week are a cavolo nero Caesar with cannelloni beans, a beetroot and fennel salad with dill, creame fraiche and walnuts one day, and chargrilled zucchini with edamame and black quinoa or Indian spiced capscium, tofu, chickpea and raita another. Sweet things are also available, with items like chocolate banoffee slice, red velvet cakes, cookies and macarons. Everything is packaged in 100 per cent biodegradable, compostable lunchboxes made from sugarcane pulp, which are oven, microwave, freezer and refrigerator-safe.
It’s this simple, sustainable, healthy community kitchen ethos that has really got people talking about Arthur Street Kitchen. She’s never done any publicity for the business (“It’s going really well, but I’m keen to keep it small”) and she’s pretty much at capacity, selling out most days. “The most [lunches] I've done is 60 in a day… I decide on recipes Tuesday, get the delivery and prep on Wednesday and delivery on Thursday and Friday.”
All deliveries are made by bike and customers receive their orders by 1pm. “I do a couple of runs – one side [of Surry Hills], then go home and get more.” But doing the deliveries herself is an essential part of the business.
“Face-to-face is all part of the experience,” she beams. “I have lots of regulars and am quite affectionate with them all. It’s amazing the people I’ve met doing this.”