The Kitchen

Popular daytime eatery, The Kitchen, pioneered the gastronomic revolution in Woodstock which has seen a number of restaurants open in the neighbourhood in the past few years, most recently the Union Jack emblazoned Deli across the road from it.

The shop front for Karen Dudley’s catering business, which devises dinners and cocktail parties, The Kitchen has a bric-a-brac feel in keeping with this inner city suburb’s numerous junk shops and secondhand stores strung along Sir Lowry Road. A gridwall of wooden shelves and a glass display counter are crammed with old crockery, ornaments, vases and baubles. Yet if you offer to buy any of these tchotchkes you will be flatly turned down.

As one enters there is a cardboard lamppost poster with the newspaper headline, “An Obama in my kitchen”, from when US First Lady Michelle Obama popped in for lunch in June last year. Popping in of course involved a convoy of 18 vehicles, secret servicemen, and cordoning off Woodstock’s main arterial road.

But perhaps Mrs Obama chose this infinitely casual establishment, because it is geographically on the class periphery and because it’s a successful woman-owned business. The Kitchen also shares her slow food ideas – the White House vegetable garden and Lets Move Campaign, which is concerned about the health of the USA’s ever-fatter kids. Organic, local and healthy are central to Dudley’s culinary philosophy.

The Kitchen is more deli than restaurant; you order and pay at the counter; you sit on barstools in the window or on wooden bankies. There are no backrests; comfort comes with the food and the conviviality of the place.

Now Dudley has taken the courageous step of bringing out her own cookbook, having grown a fervid clientele, especially among the creative classes of Cape Town (you’ll find recipes for Africa Burn Salad, Hippie Tabbouleh, and the Love Sandwich). Her gamble has paid off; the book has been resoundingly well received.

Its success lies in the fruitful combination of Dudley’s cuisine, clean design by Roxanne Spears of Good Design, and Russel Wasserfall’s many stunning full-page photographs which give the impression of being unposed.

The approach is also novel; instead of the usual division into starters, mains and desserts, this volume is based on a week (during November 2011) and runs from Monday to Sunday, skipping Saturday when the business is closed. Each day does however end with sweets, such as almond tarts (Wednesday), sour cream ginger cake (Thursday), and sesame yoghurt cardamom cake on the weekend.

Dudley and her staff create about 20 salads and sandwich variations every day. Having eaten here numerous times over the past few years, I vouch for its consistently high quality.

The food is world fusion: Mexican salsa, Moroccan couscous, chermoula, harissa, some Asian influences (particularly tropical fruits), a strong Levantine and Mediterranean bent, and a nod to Cape roots (such as Breyani rice and lemon atchar potatoes).

Much of it is raw food and the favoured means of cooking is to blast-roast vegetables for 25 minutes or to blanche them for 2 to 5 minutes before immediately shocking the greens with cold water.

If you’re curious to know what Mrs Obama sampled, it is a good representation of what The Kitchen does, and all the recipes are in the book: Koshieri rice pilaf of Egyptian origin, spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg; aubergine ‘ratatouille’ with red wine; sumac slaw (white cabbage with ground sumac, a tart Middle Eastern spice) ; beetroot apple coriander salad, with equal quantities of Granny Smith apples and grated boiled beets; chopped Turkish salad, consisting primarily of finely diced bell peppers, red onion, cucumber and cherry tomatoes; and rocket barley walnut salad with olives, tomatoes, celery and cucumber – an enduring hit with the clientele.

In going to The Kitchen, the First Lady chose well.

The Kitchen, 111 Sir Lowry Road, Woodstock. Tel: 021 462 2201.
A Week in the Kitchen by Karen Dudley. Published by Jacana Books. 2012.

This article appeared in the Mail & Guardian on 11 May 2012.

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