10 quick questions with Penny Hagekyriakou of Drool
In this latest chat we speak with Penny Hagekyriakou of Drool, an online (and now in person) cooking experience company.
Penny is an absolute dynamo with an infectious passion for not just food but for creatingconnection and community through the sharing of food. We spoke with her about her amazing business Drool and how it has navigated a pandemic, brought people together and produced a whole lot of drool-worthy food in the process!
Enjoy the chat and be sure to check out the links at the bottom for the next Drool event.
1. Tell us a little about you and your journey to founding Drool
My journey to founding Drool has been analogous to an incredible rollercoaster ride – filled with of ups and downs, conquering my fears and unexpected surprises.
I began my career as a Solicitor in Victoria, practising in Family and Criminal Law for four years. In order to feed my creative soul, I simultaneously co-founded a Food Blog which introduced me to the wonderful Melbourne food scene. When I began to realise that working within the Law was no longer serving my ultimate purpose and I felt more passion and fulfillment whilst working within the food industry, I made the bold decision to make the transition.
In order to learn more about the hospitality industry and start-up initiatives, I began working within a Business Development role for Zomato Australia. During this time, I gained an incredibly unique insight into the Melbourne food scene and met some inspiring restaurateurs that reinforced my willingness to make my mark in the food world one day.
In order to pursue this entrepreneurial dream and learn the ropes to starting my own venture, I took a leap of faith and moved to New York City where I landed an incredible opportunity to work at a young food events platform based within the Columbia University StartUp Lab.
I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by young, passionate Founders who inspired me every day, teaching me the importance of ‘hustling’ and believing in myself. I was also exposed to the emerging trend of the experiences market, where initiatives turning living rooms into pop-up live music concerts, early morning sober rave parties and BYO paint nights left me in awe. I relished in watching strangers become friends as they connected with each other over common interests in an environment where everyone felt included. I drew similarities between the melting pot of cultures and cuisines, and the community’s open-mindedness to celebrate them, to that within my own home city. Drawing from New York’s mantra of ‘anything is possible’, I felt inspired to create an experience platform in Melbourne focused on my big love, food.
When COVID-19 brought me back home in February of 2020, I dove head first into conceiving Drool and worked towards launching live in-person food events in July that year. I established a team of impressive and talented local Chef Instructors, who included MasterChef and other TV Cooking Show Contestants, Michelin Star Chefs, Authors and passionate Home Cooks. However two days before our first launch Melbourne was sent into its second lockdown, locking down our dream of physically bringing people together over food.
In order to keep Drool’s main purpose of ‘connection’ alive and support our team of Chef Instructors who were now largely out of work, I quickly decided to pivot and take our experiences online, offering them to the general public via Zoom. With no idea of how these experiences would fare, we were absolutely blown away by how positively they were received by the community, with the events soon beginning to sell out! We then began offering our classes to children, corporate groups and customers overseas who wanted to connect with family back home. Riding on the back of this success we knew we were on to something truly magical, and began planning for our original live, in-person events which we are finally able to offer!
2. What is your elevator pitch for Drool?
Drool is a unique Melbourne-based Food Experiences and Events Platform, with a simple mission to bring people together through food.
In a world of incredible disconnect; worsened by a global pandemic, we believe that re-establishing human connection is paramount and one that can be forged through something we can all relate to, food. We promote the idea that in the sharing of food, barriers are broken down and we can create opportunities to meet, learn from and empathize with others. Our food experiences are dedicated to cultivating these connections by raising awareness around, promoting and celebrating multiculturalism and community within Melbourne. I also want to provide a platform for talented local Instructors to feel empowered, share their passion, stories and knowledge, and enlighten us about different cultures through cuisine. Our ultimate mission is to educate, entertain, empower and connect, by encouraging people to step outside of their comfort zones and try a deliciously different experience.
3. Can anyone join a Drool class, is there any cooking experience needed?
Absolutely! One of the paramount pillars Drool is built on is ‘inclusivity’ and therefore we encourage anyone from ‘never cooked in their life’ to ‘cooking aficionado’ to take part in our experiences! One of our most cherished moments is watching as our participants face a challenge and then surprise themselves with what they have created during our classes. The sheer joy they experience when realising that they have overcome their self doubt and dished up something they can be proud of is truly an amazing feeling!
4. Where do you hope Drool will be in 5 years?
I am a big believer in the power of manifestation, and that with consistent hard work and staying true to your purpose, anything is possible.
So in 5 years Drool WILL be offering a variety of exciting food experiences and events across Australia, if not internationally!
The dream is to continue expanding our platform, and for our brand to be recognised for connecting people, celebrating multiculturalism and diversity, and offering deliciously memorable experiences.
5. You have a really strong focus on vegan cooking, what inspired that?
Whilst working at Zomato I was responsible for managing some of Melbourne’s most trendy Northern suburbs, from Fitzroy to Thornbury and everything in between. These neighbourhoods are famous for setting trends, inspiring creativity and making milestones within the food community; particularly when respecting and promoting various diets and intolerances. It was amongst the many cafes, bars, and restaurants of these suburbs that I learnt to respect and admire Veganism, and was incredibly impressed by the loyal following it has amassed amongst Melbournians. I was left awe inspired at the ingenuity of local chefs, transforming plant-based ingredients into sheer brilliance on a plate. These culinary creators also celebrated local produce in a magnificent way, whilst promoting how flavourful, healthy, and environmentally positive adopting a vegan lifestyle could be. Given my experience, I wanted to share this with the larger community in an effort to make plant-based food more accessible and inspire others as I have been inspired.
6. What have been the most popular of the vegan courses?
Our most popular Vegan courses have been our Vegan Italian courses, hosted by celebrated Vegan Cookbook Author and Advocate Nadia Fragnito and also Edoardo Nicita; Head Chef of Australia’s first Gluten Free Pizzeria Shop 225. Not only do I believe these classes were exceptionally popular given the phenomenal talent and reputation of the two Chef Instructors, but also our customers’ determination to veganise classic Italian dishes like pizza, pasta and tiramisu without compromising on flavour. Unsurprisingly, many of our vegan customers had been unable to enjoy Tiramisu given its dairy and egg components. Therefore, it felt incredibly rewarding to be able to shift the perceptions on what classically nostalgic dishes Vegans can enjoy!
7. What have you learned about vegan cooking from the amazing chefs?
I have been so inspired and genuinely shocked by the many ways that we can use plant-based ingredients to replace and mimic animal-based products, whilst still honouring authenticity and taste. The biggest thing I have come away with from our vegan experiences is what a sense of community Melbournian Vegans share. I relished in watching our customers share their knowledge and personal experiences with one another, always offering to provide insight and be educated by others. Our Vegan experiences are full of positivity, encouragement and celebration, as customers genuinely connect over a common lifestyle. I am proud to have brought such an enlightening experience to the community.
8. What vegan meals have you taken from the classes into your everyday life?
I think my most jaw-dropping Vegan discovery has been Aquafaba and the incredible world of Chickpeas! Using Aquafaba I have learnt how to recreate the fluffiness of a Vegan Tiramisu, using Nadia Fragnito’s famous recipe as she featured on Simon Toohey’s cooking show Freshly Picked. I have also loved learning how to make an incredible Vegan twist on an Amaretto Sour, with Food Blogger Renee Buckingham of @melbveganguide and @sydneyveganguide’s Aquafaba Sour Cocktail using Chickpea brine to replace egg whites!
9. If you could have a dream chef join Drool, who would it be?
I would live out my fangirl food fantasy and invite the brilliant Nigella Lawson. Storytelling is such a huge component of the journey I aspire to take our customers on, and Nigella is undoubtedly one of the most incredible storytellers in the industry. I love how she creates an environment in her kitchen which immediately makes you feel comfortable, engaged and curious, whilst also celebrating the fun and joy in home cooking! I think I would also just love to take a tour of her pantry and finish the evening with one of her infamous cheeky midnight snacks!
10. If you could sit down with two people for a meal, who are they and what are you eating?
This is possibly one of THE hardest questions I could ever have to answer as I am one of the most indecisive people when it comes to food decisions! But once again, I think it might have to be Nigella at one end of the table, and my Mum on the other, sharing a simple British-style Sunday Pub Roast in all of its glory featuring a bottle of pinot noir and a stout shandy for Mum. Some of my favourite food memories have eventuated from the most humble beginnings. This is ultimately the experience I wish to recreate and share with anyone who comes along on our Drool journey.
Penny, thank you so much for sharing your story! Drool is clearly in good hands and will no doubt continue to deliver amazing experiences and connections to those in Australia and beyond.
To follow along with Drool’s story or to join a class visit the links below. If you live in Melbourne you may be keen to join Drool’s mothers day class the Vegan Italian Mother’s Day Cooking Class coming up on the 9th of May from 4pm to 6pm. Click here to find out more
To see more amazing interviews just like this, visit our Vegan Chat section here.