'The most practical thing I've ever had': Ronni Kahn on her three most useful objects

As told to Alyx Gorman
·4-min read

With her short-cropped silver hair, thick-framed glasses, and penchant for bold jewellery, Ronni Kahn has earned herself a reputation as one of Australia’s most stylish women, which is why we did a double take when she told us that one of her most treasured objects is a bright yellow bum bag. Her first reaction to the gift was to think “A bum bag? Oh my god,” but then “it was about reframing my mind … practicality wins the day”.

Getting over preconceptions for the sake of something beneficial is something Kahn is very good at. After years of running a successful events company, she realised that the standard industry practice of throwing food away at the end of the night was not only wasteful – but something that could be changed.

The insight led her to found food rescue charity OzHarvest – now the largest organisation of its kind in Australia. Rethinking and reorientation is also the theme of her intimate memoir, A Repurposed Life, co-written with her daughter-in-law Jessica Chapnik Kahn. Between writing the book and steering her organisation through the unprecedented upheavals and demands of Covid-19, Kahn’s had to squeeze a lot in lately. Hence, the bum bag, which has seen her through, along with two other equally practical items.

A handmade knife

I used to have a Japanese ceramic knife, which I loved, but over the years it got very chipped. So I asked Trav, our exec chef, to find me a new knife. I thought if anybody knows how to choose one, he does.

Then this box arrived and it contained the most beautiful knife – I don’t actually even know if it was made by a company; it’s handmade and it’s got the signature of the person who made it. I’ve never experienced such joy as using this knife.

The handle is wood, and it just feels like it was carved with love. It is literally the happiest thing to be chopping – but it’s so sharp, I have to be careful! The fact that it was a gift from Trav, and such a beautiful implement for me to create food to nourish my friends and family, is very precious.

A watering can

I live in an apartment with the lovely deck and a big garden. The garden has some edible things, but I have to walk down a steep flight of stairs to get to the garden. So, right at the beginning of Covid-19, when I realised we’d be stuck at home I decided I needed something beautiful growing on my deck. I called a landscape gardener to help me put in an edible garden, which he did. But that’s not the thing! The thing is the watering can, because I have to use the watering can – again in order to nourish my plants – and when I don’t, boy I see the results fast.

I’ve now realised how important the watering can is. It’s green and very pretty. I mist early mornings, and wait till evening, when the plants are so thirsty, to water. As much as I’d like to be a gardener, I am so not a gardener. Right now most of the garden has gone to seed, but I had radishes, rocket, thyme and marjoram, nasturtiums. I’m about to do tomatoes, but at the moment the only thing I’ve got growing are these glorious, huge marigolds.

A bum bag

This is the thing that I use absolutely every day. My sister lives in Los Angeles and one day, two or three years ago, a parcel arrived. It was a yellow bum bag, and she said: “How can I walk past the store and not buy this and send it to you?” It is without doubt the most useful thing I’ve ever had – one, because I walk a lot, two, because if I do go out with my grandchildren, it’s just the most useful thing not having to hold anything in your hands, to be hands-free.

It has become my most beloved item. I’ve been looking for another one, that’s bigger so I can fit a notebook in it, and haven’t found one that just feels right. So my yellow bum bag is it – it just gets thrown into the washing machine.

It’s not the most beautiful, it probably wasn’t the most expensive thing. It’s about just making it work. I wear it going out to dinners, it’s so much easier than thinking about where I’m going to put my handbag. It’s precious because it came from my sister, and it is without doubt the most practical thing I’ve ever had.