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15 March 2022

Q&A with Daen's Kitchen

Get to know the story behind Daen's Kitchen and that Tik Tok controversy

What started out as a small private Instagram account to share her food adventures with her mum and close friends quickly gained traction and Daen's Kitchen has since blown up online with over 125,000 Instagram and 359,000 Tik Tok followers. And even a Tik Tok controversy over her love of olive oil.

We've loved following along and watching the amazing avocado toast and family food Daen whips up and we were thrilled when Daen said yes to an apron collaboration!

We sat down with Daen to learn more about her story. 

Question 1.

We'd love to learn more about you! Can you please tell us what inspired you to create Daen's Kitchen?

I have always been in love with food and from a very early age I developed quite the mature palate. I was that kid who would order sea scallops or oysters over chicken nuggets or chocolate cake. My love for seafood was so strong that my mum would never bake me a birthday cake. Instead, my parents would get me a mud crab that would be holding a happy birthday balloon in its claw. It’s one of my favourite things to eat. 

I grew up with such a huge influence of food around me. My mum, nanna and abuelo were all incredible cooks. My mum is Spanish and Italian so there was a huge Mediterranean influence in what we ate. 

When I was younger, I actually wasn’t interested in cooking at all and it wasn’t until I moved out of home and was forced to cook meals for myself that my passion for cooking developed. 

After living and working in Cambodia for almost two years, I was ready to continue the adventure and accepted a job offer in Hobart, Tasmania. I didn’t know anyone and found myself to be quite lonely so I turned to cookbooks for some solace. I would challenge myself to cook my way through a cookbook each month. I would make the most extravagant meals such as a whole roasted duck with a cherry glaze or a prawn broth with homemade dumplings that I would either eat alone or share with my roommates. 

When my contract finished, I moved to Melbourne to continue my work in the arts. My job was very demanding and I was also so busy being social that cooking was put to the side. It wasn’t until many years later when I accepted a new role that I found myself extremely unfilled and unhappy in work. I was feeling rather lost so I turned to cooking again and started Daen’s Kitchen. 

It began as a private account where its purpose was to share photos of what I was cooking and eating with my mum. We talk almost every day and the majority of our conversation will revolve around food. Then I slowly started to tell a few friends who started following me as well. 

As time went by, I then realised how much I loved doing it. I didn't just love the cooking part, but I also loved taking photos, developing and writing the recipes and going to the market and becoming friends with all the market vendors. I would sit at work all day thinking about what I could cook over the weekend, looking at established food photographers' work and researching camera equipment. 

I changed my Instagram status from private to public and it just took off from there. Even if I wanted to stop it, I don't think I could because I became so consumed by it.

Question 2.

You’ve got such a huge following on Tik Tok with over 359,000 followers. What would you say is your most viral Tik Tok?

My first viral video was my mums crispy crumbed chicken. It has now reached 11.5 million views and when it hit a million, I was so excited as I could see my hard work paying off. 

After that, everything changed for Daen’s Kitchen. My followers were rapidly growing, everyone was making my recipes and I was getting so many amazing job offers. However, I was watching from the sidelines because I gave birth to my daughter 2 weeks later and had new things to focus on like being a mum! 

And after that video, it would definitely be the avocado toast. Pretty much every toast video I post now gets a minimum of a million views. People either really love or hate them as they tend to have a lot of controversy surrounding them. 

The reason I started creating them is because I would have a 45 minute window of silence in the house when my mum, who was living with us at the time, would take my daughter Indigo for a walk. Toast was the easiest and quickest thing I could cook and film within that time frame and it just fit in with my schedule so easily. Not to mention they are also super delicious to eat!

Question 3.

We love seeing all the amazing food that you cook up on your socials. Do you have a favourite dish or cuisine that you like to cook?

Oh definitely pasta. I actually didn’t grow up with my mum or nana making homemade pasta. It’s something I taught myself how to do by reading pasta cookbooks such as Pasta Grannies, taking part in online pasta classes and lots and lots of practice. 

My work was located right next door to a Salvos and I would go there pretty much every day on my lunch break to find second hand or antique plates to photograph my food on. One day I found a pasta machine that was sitting on the half off rack so I bought it for a bargain at $5. When covid struck and I was working from home every day, I would find myself picking up the pasta machine and teaching myself how to make pasta every lunch break. It was one of those positive things to come out of such a negative time. 

Making pasta is one of my favorite things to make and my partner who wasn’t much of a foodie when we met told me the other day that it’s really hard for him to eat packet pasta now that he has gotten used to eating homemade pasta. It definitely made me giggle to hear him say that. 

Question 4.

This is a tough question. But let’s say you’re stranded on an island and can only bring one food item – would you bring avocadoes or olive oil? 

Olive oil all the way. I can’t live without olive oil and it’s very rare for me not to have olive oil in my pantry as I have a little freakout when we don’t have it in the house. Growing up in a Mediterranean household, olive oil played such a huge role in my mother’s cooking.

She’s so funny – she lived with us for 6.5 months recently when she got stuck in Melbourne due to lockdowns and it made me remember what a huge olive oil advocate she is. 

I was putting butter on toast one day and she's like, "No, no, no, no, no. You put olive oil on toast!"

And that’s how the fried olive oil on bread thing started. You put olive oil on toast and it’s so much better. It basically tastes like one large crouton! 

Question 5.

On the topic of olive oil, we’ve noticed there’s been some controversy on your Tik Toks about the amount of olive oil you use. Does the limit exist for olive oil? What’s your take on it? 

It’s been an extremely eye-opening and confronting experience for me. In my opinion, olive oil is such a healthy fat that not only acts as a cooking agent but also an extra element of flavour to your dish. I like to think that most people who have such a strong opinion against olive oil don’t know what high quality olive oil tastes like. It adds so much flavour and depth to your dish and is so different to neutral cooking oils. 

An interesting conversation was sparked after I posted an innocent 9 second video of me making a slice of avocado toast that used olive oil to fry the bread in and also a drizzle of olive oil over the avocado. A lot of people started commenting or making videos about my avocado toast saying how unhealthy it was and if you were to eat it you would gain weight, even though I had never mentioned the words healthy, calories or weight loss. I just wanted to share a piece of toast that I like to eat most mornings! 

This then led to people to rush my defense and make comments or videos explaining why commenting on someone's food who didn’t ask for your opinion or wasn’t promoting it as good for weight loss can be extremely damaging behavior. 

And when I say there were comments and videos made about it, I mean thousands and thousands of comments and videos were made about it! The original video I posted now has almost 40 million across Instagram and Tik Tok. 

All of this online drama got me thinking about my own relationship with food. The kitchen has always been my safe and happy place. It’s where I would watch my nanna and brother roll croquettes as they spoke in Italian. Where I would sit across the kitchen bench and tell mum all about my day as she cooked a paella for dinner. And as I grew older, where I would spend all day making a homemade lasagna from scratch as my way of telling my partner, I love you. Food and cooking is my love language but along the years we have had quite the complicated relationship.

I grew up in a time where I was constantly told that food was bad and my body could always be better. I even hung photos of models on my fridge door to remind me of why I shouldn’t be eating a slice of my mums delicious chocolate cake. It’s taken me years to unlearn this behaviour which is why it made me so mad that people felt the need to comment on what I was cooking and eating and how this would result in me not having the “perfect” body.

I love food. It is a part of me, my identity and my Spanish and Italian heritage. I once again have a beautiful relationship with food and that is something I want to continue to promote! I would never want my daughter to be ashamed of what she eats or how she looks. I want her to be proud of her body so I will do everything I can to promote a positive relationship with food and unlearn diet culture. 

Question 6.

If you could go back in time and meet the Daen who was just about to start Daen’s Kitchen – what’s the one piece of advice you’d give to your younger self?

Probably not to be too hard on myself. I have never ever called myself a workaholic or a perfectionist, but when my cooking started, I became such a perfectionist. I was absolutely consumed by it that I would never stop and I would get very frustrated with myself that I couldn't achieve what I wanted to.

I had never picked up a camera before Daen’s Kitchen and I would look at people's food photography and think why aren't my photos looking like that and get so frustrated.

But the only way you get to that point is through practice and teaching yourself how to get there. And that's taken me a long time. I look back at my first few photos and they're horrifically bad but in some way, I am very proud of them as they show my growth and a willingness for me to be vulnerable. 

And also, give it time to work out your style. I've changed my style so much especially when it comes to my filming. My video content started off with me doing voiceovers and talking very slowly and I listened back to them now and I'm like, pick up the pace! So now I do more ASMR styles and happy, upbeat voiceover style. 

Just like everything, it's just trial and error. And don't be afraid to mix it up too to get to that point where you're like, okay, this is me. 

Question 7.

And finally, we're excited to be partnering with you on this apron collaboration. Why have you selected this particular design? 

I love the Rose Pink color of the Boston apron! Pink is one of my favourite colours so I thought that was gorgeous. And I love that Sweet Pea colour as well. I thought that would work so perfectly with the colour of the olive emoji and the Rose Pink looked so beautiful with that bright green avocado emoji.

And the Boston Bib Aprons are such gorgeous apron - the quality, the fabric, they're easy to throw on, and easy to wash too. 

What I mainly was drawn to most was the simplicity of them and the beautiful colours. I also love that it comes in kids sizes because of Indigo, my little one-year-old. I've put her in them since she was born but they'd been very big on her. So now that she's getting bigger, they're finally going to fit and I can't wait for her to get in the kitchen with me wearing our matching aprons together.