Karen Dudley has moved on from The Kitchen and is looking onward to brighter, more delicious things. We peek into her kitchen and find out who Karen is outside the iconic restaurant she is known for.
Talking to Karen is like talking to a mythical, food-obsessed wizard. It’s in the extra-large hand gestures when she talks about toast and her sparkly eyes when discussing her lovely kitchen. You cannot sum her up in a nutshell, nor would anyone want to.
Stepping out of The Kitchen
‘I am never going to have another restaurant,’ she says when asked about the closure of The Kitchen. ‘Being at home more is wonderful and being with my family is amazing, but I’m also doing a lot of other fun and interesting stuff, and I’m embracing it and looking to the future.’
The Kitchen powered through the first months of the pandemic and South Africa’s strict lockdown, but Karen knew it couldn’t continue. ‘People were shocked! The Kitchen was such an establishment; it was all about conviviality, people hugging, getting a sandwich over the counter, lots of people breathing on the food, and people fighting in the queue for the last honey mustard sausage. And it was all about contact with people. And I just knew the world would not be like that again, not for a while. It was incredibly traumatic; I felt I was losing my community.’
Karen started making short Instagram videos, inspiring her community to make her delicious dishes at home and has found a new sense of belonging among her followers.
Karen and her husband, David, finished remodelling their house just before the world reached a standstill in 2020. Her vision was for it to be a display case for her beautiful fabrics and the vast amounts of crockery she had.
‘In 2020, we were in this home capsule that we loved and wanted to be in, and it was such a sanctuary, and it was already perfectly done – we didn’t need to set up anything – we could just start creating!’
Much thought was put into the kitchen remodel, and an expert opinion showed why she is so happy here. ‘When I expanded The Kitchen in Woodstock, the guys from across the road, who were interior people, said, “Karen, you should just get the feng shui guy to come for a consultation. It is totally worth it; he’ll tell you some things.”
It was a great experience, so when we remodelled our home, I thought I’d get the feng shui guy to come and walk through our house. It was really interesting because he showed us who would be happy in what room in the house. The only wall in the whole house, the wall of my true happiness, is the one wall in the kitchen!’
Her kitchen is a working space as much as a family gathering place. ‘Sometimes it’s hard – it feels like perpetual clean-up, and I’m still getting down with that.’ The space is functional and delightful.
‘I had this beautiful wallpaper at my restaurant, The Dining Room. The piece is called ‘The Floating Feather’ by Melchior d’Hondecoeter. The original hangs in the Rijksmuseum. I love that pelican so much. Here we paired it with black marble – such a gracious and forgiving surface and wonderful as background for pictures – we shot my fourth book, Onwards – which was published by Penguin Random House South Africa – here,’ she describes, using her hands to showcase the beauty of her kitchen.
‘My shelves are open so that you can see everything. I’m also a big believer in two dishwashers – mine are called George and Washington. So I can say, “Pack George” and “Please unpack Washington,” and it makes things run smoothly around here. It sounds indulgent, but it’s my greatest kitchen idea!’
Karen’s creative cave
One of the things that helps Karen’s creativity is her woman cave in the garden. She had to give up her space in the house when the renovations took place and ended up with a little writing desk in their dining room. ‘Not ideal,’ she says, ‘so my sweetheart, who is amazing with his hands, made me this little cabin studio all from repurposed materials from the renovation. I can think here, read my magazines, and be alone if I want to be. It is a place for restoration. It is a critical part of who I am.
The thing about toast
‘If I was ever going to have another restaurant, I want a narrow counter, and people can’t choose what they will have – I would tell them what to have. And toast is a device on which to have a delicious thing. I have a lot of delicious things – I
am the queen of the relish, the sauce, the yummy thing, the jam, the preserve, whatever. So the toast is the device. And that could be a thing, right?’ So keep your ears on the ground for the launch of Karen’s podcast, Toast.
Karen’s new book is now on shelves. ‘It follows the arc of my story and how I’m thinking about moving onward,’ she explains. ‘It’s about imagining the future. How do we take our learnings and imagine something new that is
better, kinder, more generous and more imaginative?’
When Karen isn’t in the kitchen, she likes to potter, garden and climb the mountain with her dogs. But Karen-out-of-the-kitchen is still Karen thinking about what she’ll make as soon as she steps foot in there again because Karen not creating? Impossible!
Written by Mart-Marie du Toit.
Photos: Gareth van Nelson