I want your job: Karen Dudley
Karen Dudley, owner of The Kitchen and author of A Week in The Kitchen, talks to us about her passion for good food.
Name: Karen Dudley
Job: Owner of The Kitchen
Tell us about your job, what does it entail?
My job is varied. I oversee and direct my busy shop and catering company. This involves everything from creating recipes, putting together menus, leading, training and working with my staff. I liase with clients and bring in new business (more quotes and menus and admin) and do event management and planning. I also do lots of admin – invoicing and planning. I serve in the shop, take payments, make Love Sandwiches. I spend time with customers.
How did you get here?
Years ago, I did work for a wonderful woman who believed in me and created an opportunity for me to make food for some of Cape Town’s choicest clients. When I started on my own, working from make-shift kitchens in other people’s homes, I had one helper, Mama Manzi. I did lots of mad running around – shopping, cooking, delivering, cleaning, shopping, cooking, carting food up flights of stairs to often ungrateful clients, blissfully unaware that the lamb tagine was slow roasted for many hours to perfection! There were many very hard years and lots of late nights away from my family working when everyone else was playing. My job is also very physically exacting. Nowadays I work with a phenomenal team of 14 who share my vision and who do everything from chopping to shopping to running parties. We work hard but we have a lot of fun!
What made you open The Kitchen? Was it always the dream?
I always wanted to have a shop because I realised that it was the way to make the food that I make accessible to everyone and not just an exclusive few. With my growing team and two young kids and my sweetheart confused about what he could eat and what milk he should use, it was time to find a spot! Also, our food really lends itself to display. I wanted to show off all our fabulous salads and I wanted people to be able to engage with the food they were eating in a way they would eat from a favourite home kitchen.
What is the best part of your job?
I get to be with wonderful people in my shop every day. I get to sing the Sound of Music with my girls while making Love Sandwiches for new friends. I get to be a part of people’s lives every day and I get to touch them with the food that we make. When I started my shop, I realised that I take immense joy in serving people.
What is the hardest part of your job?
I am happiest making food and hanging with people all day. I have made a lot of progress in not being tyrannised by the urgency and giving attention to the important. To be able to have fun in my shop, I often have to work at night doing admin like quotes and invoices. And ultimately I take responsibility for hard decisions about money and margins.
What has been your career highlight so far?
Undoubtedly the visit of Michelle Obama to The Kitchen! It was such a great endorsement of our shop and an acknowledgement of what we do and of Woodstock. I cooked for the most gracious and stylish First Lady ever! And she carefully chose to come to The Kitchen! A Week in The Kitchen is also a career triumph! It gives me a thrill that people might cook out of my book and love what they make!
What is your recipe for success?
I am very positive and tenacious. I place a high value on relationship in every sphere and I love to draw out the best in all who work with me. I really believe in working with good people and in building a team who are free to do their best.
What is the best career advice you have ever received?
Take time to think about your business. Look after your people.
What characteristics would you say a person needs to do your job?
A huge amount of energy. An unwavering commitment to what is good. Resourcefulness and strong people skills.
If you were not in the food industry, what would you do?
I would love to produce radio documentaries, read to children, and do vast wild floral arrangements.
Image by Russell Wasserfal