Maggie McKeown
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From donuts to dirt, Food Network personality and natural cleaning entrepreneur Maggie McKeown has covered a lot of ground in her career, but has never strayed far from the kitchen.
After graduating from the University of Toronto with a degree in history, she decided to pursue her love of food and landed a spot at the Culinary Institute of America, a prestigious, degree-granting culinary school in Hyde Park, New York.
She went on to apprentice at the historic Connaught hotel in London, England and was on-hand for the hotel's 175th anniversary and a visit from Queen Elizabeth. McKeown returned to Canada in 1997 and became national spokesperson for Kraft Canada, creating recipes for the cheese division.
With a desire to put corporate life behind her, she joined partner Esther Benaim to open Great Cooks and The T Spot at Hudson Bay's flagship Queen Street store in 1999. The pair offered cooking classes in the back of the shop and tea and lunch in the front. The success of the restaurant led to a second larger space on the Bay's eighth floor, Great Cooks on Eight.
“We served 500 to 1,000 people a day,” McKeown says. “We did cooking classes and catering too—the whole nine yards. It was crazy.”
Ten years later, and pregnant with twins, McKeown realized a restaurateur's lifestyle would no longer work for her and her family. She turned her attention to caring for sons Henry and Jonathan, now five, with husband Bill Meredith, an IT consultant. Raised in Markham and a graduate of St. Robert Catholic High School, McKeown lives in Markham today.
It wasn't long before another career beckoned. When the boys were a year old, the Food Network called and asked McKeown to audition for Recipes to Riches, a show that sees home cooks compete to have their recipes become President's Choice products.
“I nearly told them no,” she says. “The restaurant was very tough, so somehow having kids was easy and nice. I didn't want to do it.”
With her husband's encouragement, she attended the audition and got the part, working with contestants in the kitchen for two seasons.
“I loved it. It was so friggin' fun,” she says. That role led to a more recent stint as a judge on the Food Network's Donut Showdown, now the Number 1 show on the Cooking Channel in the United States.
With two seasons complete, McKeown estimates she has sampled about 240 donuts. “That's a lot of donuts,” she says. “There were some amazing ones, but there were some disgusting ones too.” Disgusting donuts aside, McKeown rates her experiences on the show highly. “It's really fun. We spend our day laughing and having a wonderful time. There's nothing serious about a donut.”
McKeown admires the contestants. “They're hard-working people,” she says. “They really were starstruck. They're working in little shops and they come to the show and there's a crew of maybe 70 people. They come to the set and they're nervous like hell. It was really sweet. One guy wanted to win to put a bathroom in his shop. This was a big deal for them.”
With only so many types of donuts to test, the Food Network is looking to launch the Ultimate Showdown, featuring everything from pasta to pizza to sauces. McKeown is a judge on the pilot episode, which she says had “gargantuan ratings in the U.S.” While the fate of the show is to be determined, McKeown isn't stressing. “You just have to keep going on with what you're doing.”
What she's doing is continuing to market her all-natural cleaning products through C is for Clean, a company she co-owns with her sister. As a chef, McKeown grew accustomed to using toxic cleaning products. “
In an industrial kitchen, at the end of the day you would bleach the floors,” she says. “That was the smell of the end of my day.”
When her kids came along, the concerned mother turned to green cleaners. But she wasn't satisfied with those commercially available at the time. “There is no truth in our labelling laws,” she says. “Green cleaners may be as toxic or more toxic than conventional cleaners.”
While conducting research, McKeown discovered vinegar was the most efficient natural cleaner. “I tried to use vinegar, but I hated the smell,” she says. After some initial attempts at infusing vinegar with fresh lavender, she studied essential oils and natural cleaning recipes that her grandmother might have used. It took her two years to formulate a recipe she was satisfied with.
“I was just looking for a solution for myself,” she notes. “I wasn't looking to sell it. But then people would come over and they liked the smell of my house. All of a sudden I'm making cleaner for everybody. I started adding the scent and everybody loved it.”
C is for Clean all-purpose cleaners harness the power of vinegar, with the addition of natural ingredients such as floral water, witch hazel distillate, essential oils and pure vanilla extract. The line includes edible-sounding varieties including lavender and vanilla, sweet orange and lemongrass, pink grapefruit, lime and ginger and a seasonal peppermint and clementine.
With pretty yet minimalist labels and a colourful ribbon tied around the top of each bottle, the cleaners have been flying off the shelves at Toronto's One of a Kind shows. C is for Clean has made One of a Kind favourites lists in Chatelaine and the National Post. “People really like it,” McKeown says. “C is for Clean is going gangbusters. We've made thousands of bottles so far.”
“All-purpose” in this case really means all-purpose.
“I use it on my boots, carpet stains, upholstery, granite, in toilets and even on touch devices,” McKeown says. “It's the only cleaner I have. I literally use it on anything.” Because it contains vinegar, C is for Clean shouldn't be used on porous surfaces, such as marble, unsealed stone and computer or television screens.
If C is for Clean costs more than conventional grocery store products, there's good reason. “We use real, expensive stuff,” McKeown says. “Only essential oils for fragrance and Nielsen-Massey top-of-the-line vanilla. People understand quality.”

Clean sweep
Maggie McKeown offers her top tips for spring cleaning:
1 Make a list. Too many tasks can feel overwhelming. Spring cleaning is all about detail cleaning—the extra stuff like baseboards, carpets and chandeliers. Go easy on yourself and don't include everyday tasks on the list.
2 Tackle one room or project at a time. Set reasonable goals and timelines. It can't all be done in a day. Give yourself a break and enjoy the work and the results.
3 De-clutter! Having too much stuff hinders a good deep clean. Rooms can be so filled with stuff it makes it impossible to get to the area that needs the clean. Feel great about ridding yourself of clutter.
4 Have the right tools for the job. Nothing is more frustrating than starting a job and not being able to finish it because you don't have the proper tools. For example, if you'll be vacuuming, ensure you have a stock of vacuum bags.
5 Remember it's just as important to clean what you don't see as it is what you do see. Don't forget the vents behind your fridge and stove or the lint traps in the dryer.
6 Open up as many windows as possible and let the fresh air into your home. Nothing is healthier for you and your home than fresh air!
7 Divide and conquer. My father used to always say, “Many hands make light work.” Make sure everyone in your home is involved in cleaning and caring for it.


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