You know an eatery has real heart when one of the signature creations is called the Love Sandwich.
I've just come back from having lunch in The Kitchen, where I was lucky enough to chat with the inspiring owner - Karen Dudley.
This remarkable woman has a real passion for touching the lives of people by sharing her delicious creations and connecting with people. For Karen it is a joy to spend time with people, giving them love through her food and receiving it back in abundance.
Celebrating Life through Food in The Kitchen
Entering The Kitchen in Woodstock my senses are awakened by the sights, sounds and smells of this vibrant deli. The walls are festooned with an eclectic collection of framed pictures and a giant printers tray laden with an assortment of quirky crockery covers the wall behind the heavenly food counter.
A good old-fashioned blackboard hangs near the large shop front window displaying the delightful menu items, from almond croissants and Creamy Dreamy Eggs to salad plates and takeaway lunch boxes.
A bevy of cute waitresses sporting moustaches for the Movember charity drive, bustle around attentively serving customers with plates piled high. I'm faced with an enticing selection of delicious salads, legendary love sarmies and scrumptious treats as I stand before the colourful food counter stacked with goodies.
My first question about the salads is "what is vegetarian?" and the answer is "everything". Karen tells me that they start by creating the salads and then add the meat dishes as a separate accompaniment. I simply can't resist the fresh salads so I go with a salad plate, which is a mix of five of the salads of my choice.
Sitting at the window front counter with a coffee I absorb the happy vibes and watch the weird and wonderful go by on the street. Looking around me I am pleasantly surprised to see plenty of single diners - professionals enjoying a lovely lunch on their own. Even better yet, I don't see anyone hiding behind their Mac, as is the norm at most places around town.
Before tucking into my lunch with gusto, Karen Dudley graciously takes some time out to chat with me.
A Word with Karen Dudley - the Creative Force of The Kitchen
Karen instantly puts me more at ease with her warm presence and contagious excitement. She answers my questions with twinkling eyes, genuine enthusiasm and a ready smile!
The most poignant moment during my interview with Karen Dudley is when she says:
"This is Who I am"
At the heart of her intense passion the message that I heard is, that Karen is who she is meant to be, and is doing what she is meant to do. Her dedication to being who she truly is empowers others to do the same, inspiring them to do what they are meant to do and be themselves.
Here's the non-verbatim Q & A with Karen:
Your favourite moment in The Kitchen?
When the place is pumping with a queue in front of the counter that's three people deep and there amid the hubbub sits someone completely engrossed in their food - loving their meal.
How many Love Sandwiches do you make?
The Kitchen feeds about 200 people a day making about 200 Love Sandwiches in a week. Karen says each time she makes a Love Sandwich is special, because it is all about connecting with the person, reaching into them and giving them the love.
Why did you choose to open a Lunch Spot?
There was a real need for it in Woodstock. There were no healthy and tasty options in this part of town. Another reason is because "I loved the idea of showing off" and sharing the good food instead of only serving it to exclusive parties at private dinners and events.
Also, you can have fun with lunch, creating a unique explosion of flavours that sit next to each other. Lunch is less formal, which means we get to "play with the flavours", bringing them together on one plate to compliment each other.
The daytime deli niche allows The Kitchen to focus on "that factor" and excel at its distinction - fresh and natural food.
Where do your yummy ingredients come from?
The Kitchen uses mostly local produce, some of which is organic. Many of the ingredients are sourced from fresh goods markets in and around Woodstock. The flexible menu enables the chefs to work with anything fresh that comes in. It's more a kitchen than a restaurant, so the team plays with any ingredients to come up with innovative and mouth-watering new dishes.
Can you tell me a bit about your team...
The cooks in The Kitchen have all been trained by Karen personally. None of the cooks in this dynamic all-women team have been professionally trained as chefs. The sassy waitresses are a team of driven young women with ambition. Karen hires a unique kind of person, choosing women that are super nice and bring something special to the team.
The energetic team of funky and talented ladies works together in this charming eatery, with only one thorn among the roses - the delivery guy.
We're launching a new restaurant, called The Dining Room, next week on the 08 November! The celebratory launch is set to be a real street party with DJ's, Gypsy bands and the works.
The Dining Room is opening only two doors down from The Kitchen in Woodstock. This new addition will focus on serving simple and classical lunches with diners enjoying the special dishes that come out of the kitchen on the day. In true creative style, there won't be a set menu and the price for the lunch surprise will be fixed.
People will also be able to book The Dining Room for private parties and events, making the entire place their own for an evening. Diners will also be able to order from The Kitchen and at the new establishment the team will include some male movers and shakers.
Is Karen Dudley Food and Party still up and running?
Yes, we are committed to this critical part of the business. The catering company is where the money is made - it is "how we stay in business". Karen explains that The Kitchen and her catering company feed into each other, in terms of the food and passion.
The upside - "Everyone gets the same fabulousness!"
Serious about Food
The Kitchen doesn't look like a serious place with all its clutter and clammer, but its creator Karen Dudley has a serious passion for food and people.
Karen tells me she aims to make a difference in the day of the person she makes food for - an aim she meets with ease and style! The tangible process of creating and sharing nurturing food is akin to the human experience of being creative and redeeming oneself on a personal journey.
Back to My Lunch in The Kitchen
After being stirred and dazzled by Karen I return to my scrumptious lunch served on one of those blue china plates like my mom used to have.
I wasn't in the least disappointed by the taste explosion that happened next. You know the food is fantastic when you can't help making the little noises that accompany a "food-gasm".
It felt like the salad extravaganza fed both my body and soul, sending me back out into the world recharged and more alive.
The Origins and Kitchen Scene
This successful business grew from her home kitchen, the lively headquarters of Karen Dudley Food and Party. As Karen's hugely popular catering company flourished and expanded so the The Kitchen was organically born.
Karen and the dedicated team of chefs keep things fresh and interesting by changing the menu on a daily basis. Their simple and wholesome dishes include a constant variation of the Chicken Dish of the Day, as well as other tasty dishes and refreshing specials of the day. This friendly lunch spot has a real home-style kitchen feel and only opens its doors from morning to mid-afternoon during the week.
As the thriving creative hood in Cape Town, Woodstock is the perfect place for The Kitchen. This now world-famous culinary stop, delights a steady flow of regular customers, as well as newcomers with its innovative and healthy meals.
Three Things to Love About The Kitchen
1. One of the best things about this cosy and character-filled eatery is that it is full of happy vibes. The Kitchen generates a celebratory atmosphere where a diverse mix of people gather to feast together.
2. The smorgasbord of mouth-watering food is of course an absolute highlight too, so pleasing in fact that plenty of take-out orders spread the love beyond its paraphernalia covered walls. Its praise-worthy fare includes sweet treats and home-made cakes to accompany the good coffee. The Kitchen is also renowned for its divine vegetarian offerings, which more than satisfied my fussy palate.
3. Another great thing about The Kitchen is its excellent location, amid the studios, offices and galleries of Woodstock. You can sit and watch the weird and wonderful go by as you tantalise your taste buds. My favourite is perusing the art galleries and then popping into The Kitchen for a vegetarian Love Sandwich and some aromatic coffee by the Rosetta Roastery. Two of South Africa's top art galleries - The Michael Stevenson and the Goodman Gallery are situated right across the road from this foodie starlet.
Look forward to tucking into a medley of clean and natural flavours on the unpretentious and personalised foodie journey at The Kitchen!
A Week in The Kitchen by Karen Dudley is more than a cookbook, taking you into the legendary kitchen of this dynamic chef. Karen's second book, Another Week in the Kitchen, is set to hit the shelves any day now. This unique cookbook is described as "the ultimate kitchen companion" that will regale readers with more mouth-watering recipes infused with South African flavours.
Read about Michelle Obama’s lunch at The Kitchen earlier this year in Karen's fabulous blog post - A Little Cultural Exchange.
A snippet - "...a few weeks after Michelle Obama, America’s first lady, graced our establishment, I am still moved by the cleverness and the generosity of her visit, and her powerful endorsement of what we are about and what she is about."