living life and sharing my journey

Kylee Newton: Unconventional Me

Kylee
I was given a jar of Newton & Pott tamarillo chutney as a flat-warming gift about two years ago, and it has now become a staple in my fridge. The talented, hard working Kylee Newton is the genius behind this jar of deliciousness and is also the author of the fabulous cookbook, The Modern Preserver.

I sat down with this inspiring fellow kiwi in October last year, just as her cookbook was coming out, to find out how you go from making chutneys for family for Christmas, to selling at markets across London, being on the shelves of Selfridges and signing a book deal, all within three years.

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio link below.

So tell me about Netwon & Pott and where that vision came from.

I was working at a photographers called Wolfgang Tillmans, a famous German photographer, and I’d been working for him in London for 10 years and he decided to pack up shop and move to Germany and he only took a couple of staff members with him. And I was like, what am I going to do with my life? I had been making chutney for Christmas presents and people loved it so much they were like – you should do this.

My first recipe was an adaptation from the {iconic NZ} Edmonds cookbook, the tomato and apple, which I put in my recipe book The Modern Preserver. I adapted it as I don’t like the old fashioned dried fruit they tend to put through chutney and people really, really loved it, so I kind of wanted to share that enjoyment with other people. People really shop here to get something home made and gifted and because it comes in this perfect little gift wrapped jar, it is this perfect gift to give people.

It’s a big step from having no job and then saying to yourself I’m going to make some tomato chutney to then having a seven-day a week job and a cookbook!

So it started with a little pop-up market stall. I had a business partner at the time. He had seen on Facebook that I was making chutney and he was making chutney, and he was kind of an old workmate, so we kind of started that together. But I was still doing other work.

I’ve always worked freelance, I’ve never worked a 9-5 job.

I’ve always worked in the creative fields as well. I’ve done event organising, event dressing, catering, DJing, working for my friend who is a fashion stylist as her assistant on TV ads. Just lots of different things! I had no work so I was just finding work where I could, creatively.

The role at Wolfgang Tillmans was a 3-day a week job, so I used to do all this other stuff anyway to fill in the time. One of those things was event dressing but I left that at about the same time as I’d been on the same rate for about 5 years and although I’d taken on management rolls and thus had put my rate up, they refused to hire me as a freelancer anymore. They came back a month later and said will you work for us but the rate is the old rate, and I just said no. I put my foot down, as I didn’t want to be taken advantage of.

One of the parts I really loved about the event styling was the floristry. So I then decided to become a florist! So I was working for a florist which had very, very early morning starts; I was getting up on Sunday morning at 3am to go to work and then coming home at 10am and I didn’t like that so much! So I found another florist called Jam Jar flowers who are a beautiful florist down in the Kennington area. I just learned on the job. I think because I’m creative (I went to art school in Auckland to Elam) and good with my hands, I naturally could do the flower arrangements really well. So I was juggling that – floristry and the preserving. And then preserving just took over.

I think in about a year of trying to juggle both, getting a few delis under my belt, that the preserving took over. It’s been a really slow process. I haven’t been one of these people who’ve had money to start with to put into a food venture and to even pay for PR. I’ve kind of let it grow very slowly, very organically. It’s taken it’s own reigns and it’s just gone for it.

It’s been three years now and you hear of all these success stories of people who have been doing it for six months and they’re already on the shelves at Selfridges but for me I just haven’t had the money to inject into that. And it’s all made at home still, in my home kitchen. And if you saw my little home kitchen you’d be quite surprised how we do it!

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You say it’s taken a long time to get here but in three years you’ve gone from making one chutney because you like it, to having a book deal, being in Selfridges and 20 other places, so that seems like a success story to me! So what’s the vision now for Newton and Pott?

I would still like to be very hands on and hand made because I think that is the quality control and the product and that is what appeals to people. So I don’t really want to outsource it at this stage. Being a little bit of a perfectionist and a control freak I want to be very hands on.

The next step for me is getting a bigger kitchen, getting more staff and directing the production but for me to do the creative side and social media side and create new recipes for perhaps a second book and have the time to do it. And I guess try to spread the joy. More people are getting into the locally made, supporting locally made companies and not really going to supermarkets as much as they used to. So I don’t really want to get into supermarkets. I do want to maintain this feel that it is exclusive; that you’ve got something that is actually quite special and handmade.

It seems you’ve been willing to try lots of things through your life in your career.

I think for several years I was trying to fulfil other people’s dreams because I didn’t realise I could fulfil my own dream.

I think it can be quite a New Zealand thing this whole tall poppy syndrome where we cut each other down. People who are doing well we put them down, we don’t elevate them. It’s this kind of thing that stumped me for so many years. I look back now and I’m like why didn’t I do this and put all this energy that I’ve been putting into other people’s projects into my own project. I could have done this 10 years ago. But who knows, 10 years ago it wasn’t the right timing for a company like mine. Ten years ago people were still wanting to buy at supermarkets and didn’t want quality over quantity.

All this time you were changing jobs and putting your creative skills to use in different ways, do you think you were seeking something?

Maybe I was, maybe I was. I went to art school and I found it really hard at art school because it is a very cliquey group. When I came to London I felt this kind of freedom. I felt anonymity. Not only do you have access to Europe and the rest of the world and it’s easier to visit these places than an island on the other side of the world but you feel like you’re a small fish in a big pond so you need to crawl your way around, not a big fish in a small pond. It’s filled with fear! And I still think “what am I doing?” and I still say to my husband “what on earth am I doing, am I doing this right?”.

We went to this amazing talk last night about sustainability within fashion and food. There’s this great restaurant down in Brighton called Silo, which is zero waste, and the founder was talking last night. My business was started because of the hatred of waste. When I first came to London I was overwhelmed with the number of plastic bags, that they put everything into plastic bags which they didn’t do in New Zealand. I don’t know if they do it now, I’ve been here 15 years. People read use by dates and just chuck things out without really having the intelligence about looking to see if the food has actually gone off. So chutney and preserves help me tackle this. I can give something longevity. I can take fruits that are starting to go to waste that might be a little bruised and I can make that into a chutney. With the jam you have to use fresher fruits because the fresher fruits have more pectin but you can use up the glut. You can go foraging. I was foraging down in Whitstable the other day for rosehips and sloes. So you can use up what nature provides. And this guy from Silo was talking about this; he’s like a demi-god to me! I just love that place. He was talking about having this switch of when in your brain it all becomes so clear and the dream, and what you want to pursue. And I keep thinking, oh god that hasn’t happened to me! I really want that to happen to me! And I’m sure it will. I’m going to plod along with this one thing and I want to perfect it. I always feel as though I could do more. It could be better.

Photo courtesy of Philippa Langley.
Photo courtesy of Philippa Langley.

What is your biggest achievement? What are you most proud of?

It’s got to be the book, The Modern Preserver, as I could start to be creative. Although all my jams are seasonal and I work with the seasons, I’ve got this staple kind of flavours going on. Sometimes on the Broadway Market stall I might have the odd new interesting thing, but all the products that go out into the delis I have to keep them to staple certain amount otherwise it would get too crazy in the kitchen here. But they have to deal with me changing the flavours, particularly with jams because I work with the seasons. So they’re like can I order 100 strawberry and pimms jams and I’m like well strawberry and pimms doesn’t exist anymore the season’s over you have to choose from these three new jams. I think they quite like that aspect too because we should be working with the seasons.

The other achievement is probably getting into Selfridges; I think that’s a big deal for me. People kept saying is it really hard? I went into the interview thinking oh they’re going to fight me to lower my prices and they’re going to leave me with nothing. They’re going to do these mass orders and then drop me. But it’s been completely the opposite from the very beginning! They were all really friendly. They loved the product. They loved the homemade aspect to it and thought it was something really, really special. All my labels are handwritten and I thought it’s not going to look professional enough for them but they loved this aspect! But I have to stop doing that, it’s just too time consuming!

What do you think the biggest lesson you have learned has been?

That’s a hard one. I don’t know. I think I’m learning all the time. There have been so many lessons. It’s been a lesson in confidence, trusting myself a bit more. Yeah, that’s a really difficult one.

When times get tough, who’s your support network?

My support network is my husband. He’s the best person for me. We bounce ideas off each other all the time. He is incredibly supportive and I don’t think I could have made this what it is without him. Definitely he is the silent partner in all this. He’s a graphic designer and he did all the design for the book and he did all the design for my branding. He also supports me financially. When I get low he is always here. Yeah, he’s been amazing.

I excel in the creative side; my fault is more the business side of it. I’m a very reluctant business woman. I manage to run a business but I’m doing it from being self-taught and just intuition, so I keep searching for mentors. There is this amazing man who I’m going to tap into really soon, called Adam Wells, who owns Crosstown Donuts and Kopapa and also had the Gourmet Burger Kitchen. He’s a fantastic man and a great business man.

Peter Gordon is also a great support for me. He’s offered to endorse the book in New Zealand. He also comes to visit me on my market stall whenever he is in London cause he just lives around the corner from Broadway Market. He’s been promoting the book and been very supportive.

Kylee - Unconventional Me Quote-updated

If you were going back to your 18 year old self, what advice would you give her with all these experiences in your life?

I think that you have to bite the bullet and do it. Face fear and just do it anyway. You’re not going to achieve anything if you don’t do it. It does take a lot of hard work. I don’t think my 18 year old self would be prepared for the hard work I put myself through as my 30+ year old self! A lot of hard work. Dedication. Passion. Persistence. Keep knocking at that door. If it’s something you’re really passionate about then you just have to keep doing it. If you envision to be something then keep at it.

At the same time, know that if you do fail, that failure is not a problem either. It’s not the end of the world. You can do something else.

Just have some kind of blind faith and confidence. Just do it anyway. And don’t stop! And you’ll get there! You only live once.

You can find Newton & Pott preserves and jams at a number of delis and markets around London, including on a Saturday at Broadway Market. To order a copy of Kylee’s The Modern Preserver cookbook or to get in touch with Kylee, check out her website.



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