‘Onwards is more than just a cookbook: it tells the story of my journey since closing The Kitchen, and having to redefine my life without it.’
More about the book!
After closing her beloved Cape Town restaurant, The Kitchen, Karen Dudley embarked on a journey to rediscover her love for the alchemy of food, and cooking for her family.
It was a journey that helped her redefine herself after being a restauranteur for 11 years, and has come together in her beautiful new cookbook, Onwards.
‘For the first time in ages, I was spending more time at home, giving all the weight of my creative energy to my poor family (luckily, they loved it!).’
My restaurant, The Kitchen, was loved by so many people and we had a strong community. To be honest, we still do, even without the restaurant. I can’t tell you how often I get asked about when – or if – I’m going to open again.
We were forced to close The Kitchen during lockdown in May 2020, when we weren’t allowed to trade as usual. It was incredibly sad to say goodbye. I had 20 people working for me, and we were like a family. It was important to me that they were still paid and have something to tide them over after we closed. To be able to do this, I sold everything in the restaurant, gave online cooking demonstrations, began filling bottles of dressings and sauces for online foodie platforms; whatever it took. We were also fortunate to have help from our dedicated community, who showed their support by buying my cookbooks or making donations.
Of course, once we closed for good, we were left with loads of ingredients. I donated much of it to a nearby soup kitchen, but there were things like mustard and horseradish and capers and olives that I took home. The silver lining was that I was lucky to not only have these wonderful ingredients, but also now an abundance of time to get creative with them, and so, I began making relishes.
It was the beginning of a joyful new time for me. Up until then, I’d been so preoccupied with the restaurant, and everything that came with it, that I didn’t have the capacity to do what I loved, and what got me into the food industry in the first place: playing with flavour.
I quickly fell in love again with the alchemy of putting different flavours together and finding the ‘crack’, as I call it. That thing which, once tasted, you can’t live without – it’s the deeply-roasted sesame sauce, the Nuoc Cham dressing, or that crumby bread mix to top absolutely anything. It was just me, doing what I love, and it was healing. It’s been incredibly liberating, and it led into my newest cookbook, Onwards.
Onwards is my fourth cookbook, and it’s different to my first three, in that it’s quite intimate. It’s more than just a cookbook: it tells the story of my journey since closing The Kitchen, and having to redefine my life without it.
It begins with ‘Recipes to help with letting go’, and features all the relishes, sauces and dressings I created when I found myself at home after closing The Kitchen.
Then there’s ‘Actual lunch and supper’ and ‘I make lunch for my Sweetheart now’, filled with yummy lunches and simple dinners because, for the first time in ages, I was spending more time at home, giving all the weight of my creative energy to my poor family (luckily, they loved it!). It was a very special time.
‘The solace of vegetables’ and ‘My brassica affair’ are inspired by our move towards a more vegetable-led diet during lockdown. After I closed The Kitchen, we were a single income family, so we really got into vegetables, and just being clever with what we had. We even started our own veggie garden, which was such a good thing to have come out of lockdown.
Then I moved towards doing online stuff, really trying to imagine our new life, post pandemic. This was my way of connecting with friends and strangers alike, and sharing my knowledge outside of The Kitchen, and this is where the chapter ‘Earrings & lipstick for Instagram’ originates from.
The book is geared towards home cooks, who want to make simple, but delicious food for their family. I’ve focused a lot on dressings, relishes, sprinkles and stuff that’s crunchy and brings texture because, even the simplest ingredient can become phenomenal with just a bit of relish. Like, you can have a steeped broccoli and by the time you add something like my tonnata sauce, made with tuna and mayonnaise, it’s a whole different thing.
My hope is that people use my recipes as a starting point, but really make them their own – finding the flavours they like, and combining them in new and interesting ways. There’s a whole world of exciting possibility right there! That’s the true joy of food.
Onwards by Karen Dudley is out now.
This article was originally published in The Penguin Post, a magazine from Penguin Random House South Africa.
Categories Cookery Lifestyle Non-fiction South Africa
Tags Karen Dudley Onwards Penguin Random House SA The Penguin Post