Kylee Newton

9th September 2016

Interview: Molly Tait-Hyland
Photographs: Dan Dennison

9th September 2016

Interview: Molly Tait-Hyland
Photographs: Dan Dennison

When Kylee Newton started Newton & Pott in 2012, she made everything – jams, marmalades, pickles and chutneys – in the east London flat that she shares with her husband Mark, a graphic designer. Earlier this year she upgraded the whole operation to a studio building just behind Broadway Market. We can’t detect it, but when Kylee’s mother-in-law comes to visit, she can apparently still smell the vinegar.

On the muggy, overcast morning of our interview, the windows are flung wide. The small flat is stuffed with punk records (from Kylee’s DJ days), art books, succulents and vats of damson gin. Photographs by Wolfgang Tillmans – Turner prize-winning photographer and Kylee’s former employer – hang on the walls. Welcoming, chatty and quite excitable, Kylee is someone you want to be around – which may be one reason she’s thrived in so many different occupations (chef, draper and florist also crop up on her CV).

Kylee is baking us a cake, but first we head out into the fug to pick up a few ingredients at Broadway Market, where Newton & Pott have a stall. Among the neat rows of jars, there are jams (pear & lavender, mixed berries & lemon thyme), unusual pickles such as za’atar cauliflower and gin cucumbers, Kylee’s take on some British classics (tomato ketchup, piccalilli) and flavours from her New Zealand childhood (chutneys made with feijoa and tamarillo).

After Kylee has greeted half of Broadway Market – she has lived in this area for 16 years – we return home with apricot & almond jam, perky apricots, butter and fresh eggs. Over the next few hours, as the apartment fills with mouthwatering cakey smells, Kylee talks openly about the realities of starting a business and shares some valuable preserving tips. Then, as the afternoon draws on and rain threatens, we sit down to Earl Grey tea and apricot jam cake hot from the oven.

Continued below...

How did you get into making preserves?

I began making chutney when I was working for [the photographer] Wolfgang Tillmans. I gave jars out as Christmas presents and people were really touched that I’d actually made something for them. A friend said: “You should do something with this.” She was probably just teasing, but I thought, “Yeah, yeah! I should do something with this!”

How did you end up working for Wolfgang Tillmans?

When I moved to London in 2001, I was living with a guy who was working as Wolfgang’s printer. He moved to Sweden and I decided that I was going to take over his job. One of the punters in the bar I was working at had a darkroom and I got him to teach me how to print photos. I walked into my interview with Wolfgang saying, “I am a printer”, but not really knowing that much – and I got the job. It was a little bit naughty but I ended up working with him for 10 years, printing all his analogue photos. I would still be working there if the job still existed, but he moved back to Berlin and went more into the digital world. When Wolfgang left, I had this amazing skill of printing analogue photographs, but it didn’t translate to the modern world. Out of the 200 darkrooms that used to exist in London, there’s only about four or five left.

20160625-dd__0637

20160625-dd__0708

20160625-dd__0667

What did you do next?

I decided to be a florist. JamJar Flowers in Kennington took me on, even though I didn’t have any background in floristry. All my reports growing up would say: “Kylee’s very good with her hands, Kylee’s very creative.” I’ve run with that my whole life. I think visually.

When did you start making preserves full-time?

About two and a half years ago. My mother lent me some money – I couldn’t have gone full-time without that. But it was starting to demand all my time and I couldn’t juggle it.

People always see the great side – it’s all constantly Instagram, always good. It’s not: it’s a hard slog

What’s it like running your own business?

It’s really hard. I am responsible for other people’s wages. It’s scary and I have really bad days – I lose faith sometimes. Not faith, motivation. It’s important that people know it’s not easy.
I love that Netflix series Chef’s Table. They talk about the down period too, that it’s not all roses. It resonated with me. People always see the great side – it’s all constantly Instagram, always good. It’s not: it’s a hard slog. I started Newton & Pott with absolutely zilch – on a credit card, which I don’t advise. I’ve been slowly churning away and it’s grown very organically. It feels like a very long time to me because I still don’t pay myself a wage. My husband supports me. One day I will pay myself, I’m sure of it. Well, I’m banking on it…

20160625-dd__0758

20160625-dd__0810

20160625-dd__0828

It sounds stressful. What keeps you going?

My husband – he’s so supportive. And knowing that I have to create work for someone else, that I have employees who depend on me. Also, I want to say something about the food that I make: it’s not just creating food. I’m interested in the sustainability side as well. It sounds really hippie and I consider myself a little more rock ‘n roll, but looking after the earth, respecting the seasons, preserving things – I’ve been brought up with these ideas and they’re really important to me. The whole idea around preserving is that you use up the seasonal glut. You’re giving food a new lease of life.

Do you use only organic fruit and vegetables?

I’m not ruled by it. We just try and get the best possible stuff we can for the money we have.

What influences your preserving?

The seasons, and the flavours from my childhood. Tamarillos and feijoas aren’t so familiar here.

Where did you grow up?

In New Plymouth, in the Taranaki region of New Zealand. I loved growing up there. Every day, after school, I’d jump on my bike and race down to the beach or the river and just hang out – collecting crabs, playing with friends, getting up to mischief. My parents split up when I was five, so we went back and forth from mum’s to dad’s. But it was a good childhood.

20160625-dd__1275

20160625-dd__1023

20160625-dd__1005

What did your parents do?

My father was a fisherman: he worked on a tugboat. It was my mother who brought us up. Her name is Rosalie Dawn Lovegrove, which sounds like something out of Tess of the d’Urbervilles. We lived mostly with her. She did lots of different jobs, anything she could for us to survive. She always encouraged us to be creative. We grew up doing acting and art classes.

Did your mum like to cook?

Growing up, she always experimented with things. Kids used to come to our house for dinner because mum wasn’t into meat and three veg. We ate things like nasi goreng, stir-fried rice, chicken satay, linguine with crab. People weren’t eating that kind of stuff at the time. That’s where my first love and education about good food came from. My husband always says that I have this natural sense of how to put things together, I look at recipes and don’t follow them. It’s just from always being in the kitchen cooking.

It’s the kind of shop you go: “I bet they don’t have pomegranate syrup” and they’ve got it. They’ve got everything.
Kylee on her favourite food places in London – see Address Book

So you cooked a lot growing up?

Us girls had to make dinner once a week, we had a rota on the fridge. It was the highlight of my week. I would spend hours on the kitchen floor flipping through cookbooks, thinking about what I was going to cook.

What did you do after finishing school?

I went to art school in Auckland. I chose printmaking, which was silly – all of my art works challenged the ideas of printmaking and the value of art. I should have done photography instead. But I loved living in Auckland. I probably did more partying than studying. I lived in a massive, beautiful old villa with eight other people and worked on the floor at Verona Café, where lots of artists and filmmakers used to hang out. I also worked at a place called the Merchant Mezze Bar. I started at the very bottom washing dishes and worked my way up. Eventually I got into the kitchen and was doing all the prep work. I learned a lot there.

20160625-dd__1281

20160625-dd__1273

20160625-dd__0867

Do you have a favourite jam or chutney?

The tamarillo chutney – I love the bittersweet combinations on my palate. And I have a Seville and Campari marmalade that is amazing: it’s like a negroni in a jar.

Are you concerned about sugar?

Sugar is not my enemy, it’s a natural preservative. We should be wary of hidden sugars, not the ones you know about. Jam has sugar but you’re not going to drink the whole jar of jam. You’re only going to have a piece of cake.

Sugar is not my enemy, it’s a natural preservative. We should be wary of hidden sugars, not the ones you know about. Jam has sugar but you’re not going to drink the whole jar of jam

Talk me through how you eat on an average day.

We write a menu for the week, which involves going through our cupboards and deciding what needs to be used up. For breakfast we often have yoghurt with granola and jam. Mark is very good at making us a packed lunch, which is usually something pasta-based or a soup. On a Friday night we usually have pizza.

Where from?

The supermarket. At our engagement party, we were given lots of prosecco and champagne – more than we could drink. Initially we thought, Oh, we’ll keep this for a special occasion, but the special occasion never came. So on a Friday night, we have a supermarket-bought pizza or a Chinese takeaway with a bottle of champagne – high and low.

20160625-dd__0854

20160625-dd__0924

20160625-dd__0985

Aside from pizza night, what do you cook?

A lot of soups and salads and fresh vegetables. Recipes from Ottolenghi and Peter Gordon’s new book Savour. Mark is a great cook. Now that I’m in the kitchen all day, I don’t want to be cooking when I come home.

I made ceviche, which he’d never had before. Then a pea and prawn risotto and finally miniature summer puddings. We started flirting over food

How did you and Mark get together?

A friend had a “love” party. It wasn’t an everyone-chuck-your-keys-in-the-bowl kind of party, she was just sick of all the anger and hate in the world. I went early and got really, really drunk. I’d been going up and chatting to Mark and I found myself on the dancefloor thinking: where’s that guy? I realised, oh my god, I love him. I hadn’t felt that way since I was 12 years old and liked the boy living down the road. Usually you meet someone and it grows into something but this was a real crush. I went up to him and said: “I’m really attracted to you, do you feel this?” – those words exactly, a genuine drunken question, and he’s like “Yeah, I feel this”. We’ve pretty much hung out ever since.

What did you do on your first date?

I cooked a three-course meal. I made ceviche, which he’d never had before. Then a pea and prawn risotto and finally miniature summer puddings. We started flirting over food.

20160625-dd__1058

20160625-dd__1097

Where did you get married?

At Bethnal Green Town Hall. Then went to the pub in Victoria Park. We dictated the menu – we were very clear that the broccoli needed to be crunchy. We stressed it over and over again: please don’t over-boil the broccoli. There was salmon, baked shoulder of lamb, winter salads and lots of champagne with homemade elderflower cordial.

What do you cook if you’re by yourself?

Something really simple like egg-fried rice, a salad or soup. I love chicken and savoy cabbage soup.

On The Menu

Lunch with Kylee Newton
London, June 2015

To eat:

Apricot jam cake »

To drink:

Flat whites from Climpson and Sons
Earl Grey tea with soya milk

Is there anything you don’t eat?

Unfortunately I’ve grown intolerant to raw garlic. I didn’t realise until I was saying to Mark: “You know when you eat garlic and you can’t taste anything else for the next 24 hours, and then you get a sore stomach?” He was like, “Hmmm no, that doesn’t happen to me.”

What is your comfort food?

Ice cream. The one I go for, if I’m just buying from the corner shop, is Häagen-Dazs strawberry cheesecake. And I love Poco Gelato – his flavours are incredible. I should have been an ice-cream maker, but that would kill the enjoyment for me, wouldn’t it?

20160625-dd__1185

20160625-dd__1191

Can you share some preserving wisdom?

Jam is a little trickier than making chutney. It’s a chemical reaction, whereas chutney is about reducing. A lot of jam-makers use a thermometer to find the setting point, which is about 104°C. I find thermometers unreliable, so I watch the jam and wait until the bubble changes. You’ll find it gets to a rolling bubble, which means there are lots of bubbles, but then it starts to thicken up, the bubbles become bigger underneath and it starts to plop. Once it’s just started to change, then I know it’s time to wrinkle-test.
You can over-set jam, and there’s not a lot you can do to bring it back. That’s why it’s better to under-set. I don’t mind a nice sloppy jam. If the sugar crystallises in the jar, add a few drops of lemon juice and stir it up. Put the jar into a pot and fill the pot with water so that it reaches halfway up the jar. Bring the water to the boil, so that the jam melts and it’s easier to stir.

Any plans for the future?

I’d really like the business to run itself so that I have time to do more on the creative side. It’s funny: I always thought I was an artist helper – that it was my role in life to fulfil someone else’s dreams. It wasn’t until I started Newton & Pott that I realised I can put all that creative energy into my own project.

For more about Newton & Pott, go to www.newtonandpott.co.uk. You can buy a signed copy of Kylee’s book The Modern Preserver here.

Follow Newton & Pott: Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

20160625-dd__1284

Posted 9th September 2016

In Interviews

 

Interview: Molly Tait-Hyland
Photographs: Dan Dennison

More Interviews

Alison Roman – Over a long summer lunch at her Brooklyn apartment, the food writer and ex-pastry chef trades dinner-party tactics, reveals her biggest food heroes and explains why recipes exist to be subverted

Asma Khan – The founder of Darjeeling Express makes mutton keema for lunch, recalls cooking lessons in her family’s Calcutta palace, and explains why she only employs women at her new London restaurant

Bea Pérez & Pepe Flórez – The owners of Bodega Vidas show us around their vineyard, explain how they swapped science for wine, and prepare a very special – and intensely meaty – local delicacy

Zoe Adjonyoh – The chef & food writer cooks Moroccan chicken for lunch, recounts a journey to her Ghanaian roots and explains how a pot of peanut butter stew launched a flourishing food career