The intimacy of flavour: How Hetty McKinnon is changing food magazines

Peddler is the newest creation from Hetty McKinnon. The salad-maker and food author, who made a splash with her cookbooks Community and Neighbourhood, is back to change the way we consume food magazines. As McKinnon steps into the world of periodical publishing, she speaks to Aerostorie about cooking up the first issue.

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Hetty McKinnon has always shared her cooking. In print she is known for mixing words and photography with the same detailed attention she paid to constructing the fare served through her Arthur Street Kitchen, and now, in her Brooklyn workspace. Her cookbooks have been gobbled up eagerly by readers around the globe.

The publisher, editor in chief and creative director at Peddler tells Aerostorie that developing a magazine has always been on the cards. Based in New York, the former Sydneysider says that she has always enjoyed the excitement of exploring new ideas while collaborating.

“You know when you have an idea, and you have someone else who eggs you on?”

For McKinnon, that person is Shirley Cai, who now works as the magazine’s art director.

“When you have that person, you kind of feel like, ‘maybe I can do this’, because I can write, I can shoot the photos and I’m very comfortable with finding printers, and doing my strange ad-hoc way of distribution. I’ve done all that before.”

Those early conversations gave way to Peddler, a hotly awaited multicultural food magazine that focuses not just on the food, but also the eating and sharing which come with cooking from the heart. The publication also explores sharing cultural connections through flavours — somewhat of a passion for McKinnon who believes that food is a good way of staying connected to family while abroad.

“I almost think that I wouldn’t have done Peddler if I was still in Sydney, because I always find that when I’m away from home I think differently.

Behind the dust jacket: Peddler's beautiful textured photography. (Jeremy Smart for Aerostorie)

Behind the dust jacket: Peddler's beautiful textured photography. (Jeremy Smart for Aerostorie)

The cover of Peddler's first issue, Chinatown. (Jeremy Smart for Aerostorie)

The cover of Peddler's first issue, Chinatown. (Jeremy Smart for Aerostorie)

“I think more about my family, about their history, about memories, because that’s what’s tying me to them because I don’t see them.”

“Those types of things become more important to me when I’m away. When I was in London, my mum visited me and I made her teach me how to cook all these meals that I’d grown up eating,” McKinnon says.

Contemplating this connection also served to be an inspiration for one of the publication’s first features.

“The first story I actually shot for Peddler was the story at my home that I grew up in,” McKinnon says.

But while the concept came straight from the heart, styling her Mum’s home to fit the pages of a lush printed publication proved challenging. While McKinnon knew that she wanted the publication to look different from typical food magazines, 80s suburbia wasn’t exactly what she had in mind.

“I’ve got two books that have been styled, and not as styled as other cookbooks, but they still had a stylist involved. So I was like, how we do this in my mum’s house? It was a house that was built in the early 80s, and has plastic everything.”

But battling fluorescent lighting and 80s aesthetics would have arguably removed the authenticity, and in the end, McKinnon just launched right in.

“I was like, screw this, I’m just going to shoot it the way it is.”

“I think those are the most evocative photos that I shot. People will see it and think: ‘I recognise that. My place had that tile, we had that table in our house’.

“Houses that were built in those times were so similar. They had the same tiles and the same microwave. Just by accident, that really created the whole look for the magazine.”

Shooting the majority of food photos at home also added to the cosy charm of the project — the end effect is one of intimacy.

Elegant spreads fill Peddler's first issue. (Jeremy Smart for Aerostorie)

Elegant spreads fill Peddler's first issue. (Jeremy Smart for Aerostorie)

Hetty McKinnon, the brains behind Peddler.

Hetty McKinnon, the brains behind Peddler.

McKinnon says that it’s important that Peddler doesn’t subscribe to mainstream food publishing trends.

“It’s not about restaurants, and it’s not about famous chefs. It’s not about new fads.

“I think, since food exploded, that’s kind of what everyone’s into. Everyone’s trying to outdo each other on every level from social media to books to magazines to everything.

“This is kind of a complete opposite take on food,” she says.

Instead, the pages of Peddler reflect the intimacy of cooking, and the warmth of sharing food. In her publication, McKinnon wants to remind readers that food is intrinsically entwined with home.

“Literally, everyone who cooks and all the famous chefs, this is where they all started; in the home. They all learnt to cook because they saw it happening at some point in their lives in their home.

“It really pisses me off when I see so much of what is represented in the media about food, is chefs. So much of the glory that people in food get, is chefs and awards and the hottest restaurants.

“Maybe that’s a New York thing. It’s almost like people are forgetting what food actually is.

“It’s not about the glory and how flashy you can be, and all that kind of stuff. It’s actually basic. Food is really a basic thing. It’s about surviving. If you can make it really beautiful and taste really good, then that’s just an advantage.

“My reaction to all of that stuff, is in this magazine.”