Taste Bud Profile
One of the first things that becomes obvious when speaking to Ellen Bennett is that to her, life is a celebration of all good things. For Ellen, finding joy in even the simplest actions, flavors, and experiences is important, but sharing it with others is what really makes life magical.
Ellen Bennett: My strongest food memories are from my time in Mexico when I was little, spending all of my time in the kitchen with my abuelita. I’d say most of those memories revolve around giant pots of boiling things. To this day, if a kitchen is a little warm and a little humid, it reminds me of our kitchen in Mexico, with all of the soups and stocks and beans simmering away. So much of what she made was simple—like her oatmeal, which we ate every day. It was just oats, milk, cinnamon, salt, and sugar. We ate it every day for breakfast and it was just perfect. Or beans—just some local beans she’d pick up from the farmer’s market across from her house, pick through, then put them in a pot of boiling water. And in that pot, they would turn into magic. I remember how simple everything was, but how by the time it was cooked and on my plate, how it transformed into something with such powerful flavors. I’ve had unbelievable meals as an adult that I don’t remember as vividly as I remember a perfect bowl of beans, with cheese from the market and fresh tortillas.
I was in the mix with my grandma all the time. She always took me with her to the market, and let me help with whatever she was doing. I loved to be involved, and she never made a fuss about it. It was wonderful. She allowed me to do everything she was doing—there was no limit. It was empowering to me. If I made a mistake I learned from it, I wasn’t sheltered from making it in the first place. My first baby is on the way, and I think about it all the time—the idea that I can raise my child in the same way. It’s not about limiting, it’s about empowering them to make their own decisions and mistakes.
I think it’s also powerful when adults can admit they don’t know everything. I think when people don’t know something but think they should know something, rather than ask, they just don’t talk about it, because they don’t want to admit a blind spot! But I think that’s limiting behavior too. I think being open to learning new things is crucial, and it’s something we say we need to instill in our kids, but adults need to do it too. When I try to introduce something new to someone, I try to do it with enthusiasm and excitement. The idea isn’t to teach by shoving medicine down someone’s throat—it’s to get them excited enough to want to experience it for themselves. When you foster that curiosity in someone, that’s when they start to actually want to try the new food, go to the new place, seek out the unfamiliar. To me it’s about constant learning. If you’re not learning every day, you’re essentially dying on yourself.
I’m half Mexican and half British. The British half of the family was basically the opposite of my Mexican family, which I also really appreciate. That opposite vibe has helped shape me in many ways. Hedley & Bennett is a mashup of the two sides of me—the colorful, loud, spunky and vibrant side with the dignified, proper, very orderly side as well. It’s me in a nutshell. My English grandmother was also the cook in the family, and she taught me how to roll dough, and make shepherd’s pie, and I was always in the kitchen with her, though it was much quieter. There was less of a show, but all of the enthusiasm. And the food made me say “wow” in the same way—it was just different, but still delicious.
I was always proud, and continue to be proud of where I came from. I talk about it all the time. My advice is to love the things you love about your culture and incorporate them into your life however you deem fit.
Don’t hide it away because it’s different from other people—the world needs more uniqueness and differences of perspective. If we didn’t have that, every day would be really boring and we’d be eating very dull food. There’s a beauty in sharing the things you grew up with with other people. For example, I made a really simple dish on Instagram a few months ago—like the simplest beans that I grew up eating. And I remember questioning whether it was too simple or basic to share, but the responses were incredible. People were going nuts for these beans, or they were sending messages that they were so similar to something that they had grown up eating. It was an amazing feeling. So no matter what, if you love something, just love it. Share it with others. You have no idea who else might feel the same, or be excited to share in your excitement. The more we share these magical moments with others, the more they understand them, and each other.