There’s nothing like coming home to the aroma of a lovingly prepared meal, especially when it has been prepared especially for you. This is exactly how I felt when I tried The Dinner Ladies gourmet home delivered meals.
I came across The Dinner Ladies through a friend who had raved about them so I promptly subscribed to their weekly emails. I always look forward to receiving their weekly email. As well as listing the meals available the following week, owners Sophie (on the left in the above pic) and Katherine (on the right) inject so much personality and pizzazz into their weekly wrap-up of their cooking triumphs. It’s a heartfelt account of the making of their beautiful dishes.
Starting out in a back shed using camp stoves and literally preparing meals for their family and friends, The Dinner Ladies soon grew to a successful business providing fresh gourmet meals to thousands of households around Sydney.
I finally had a chance to place an order a few weeks ago and I was so excited when it arrived. Each order is delivered directly to your door in a polystyrene box with ice packs to keep everything cool.
What I love about it
What I loved about the menu is that the meals come in different sizes, not just single serves. So you can order for the family, for two or whatever suits you. You can also order fresh meals and frozen, which for someone like me leading a busy lifestyle is a really good option. Sometimes it’s such a blessing to have things in the freezer ready to be defrosted for a last minute meal.
Although the menu isn’t designed to be paleo, because Sophie and Katherine use fresh, whole ingredients, many of the dishes are perfectly paleo. Most dishes are also gluten free and they do cater for different dietary requirements with their range of meals.
Each week there are new meals on offer; delicious things like cinnamon-scented lamb with eggplant, kashmiri coriander chicken curry, duck confit with blood orange glaze and pomegranate and rosewater chicken with toasted almonds. If that’s not enough to get your tastebuds excited I don’t know what is! My mouth is watering as I type (I’m not kidding)!
The word ‘gourmet’ is rather overused in the culinary world, but I think The Dinner Ladies do home-style gourmet at its best.
I had the pleasure of speaking to Sophie about the small enterprise she started with friend Katherine and I couldn’t have put the words more perfectly. Here’s the interview in full:
Where do you source your produce?
We buy our poultry (free range chicken and ducks) from Thirlmere Poultry who are just on the outskirts of Sydney. All our meat is sourced by our wonderful butcher, Dave Lucas of Lucas Meats – it’s conventionally reared (we’d rather lots of people be able to afford us rather than make organic only for a few) but he’s fantastic at getting us the cuts we need, which change every week and often aren’t totally straightforward. For example, this week we’re using beef brisket (slow cooked for enchilada fillings) and skirt steaks (with a Korean marinade and dipping sauce).
For vegetables we’ve had a number of suppliers but now Wilson, one of our kitchen hands, takes the van to the market and shops there twice a week in the morning before work. It’s actually great because he knows what we’re going to do with the ingredients, so he can buy with that greater degree of understanding.
Eggs – our everyday eggs for cooking are just the free-range from Baldico (our dairy supplier) but the eggs we offer our customers are Holbrook Paddock Eggs and they are the genuine article (it’s worth looking up their website). They have built mobile homes for their chickens so they can move them from paddock to paddock and they are never locked in – they’re just guarded by two Maremma guard dogs.
Can you tell us about how The Dinner Ladies came about?
To give you a brief history of the business, Katherine and I started The Dinner Ladies in 2007 (we’d met when our oldest sons, Freddie and Finn, started school in 2004) soon after I’d had my third child (Katherine’s fourth was at that stage one and a half). I was looking for a way to make some money to buy my husband a birthday present and a lawyer friend with two young children said that she’d pay me if I cooked a couple of dinners for her. It struck me that I knew lots of people like her, who’d lost much of the interest they’d once had in cooking, at least day-to-day, but who didn’t want to feed their families take-away or anonymous, prepared food from a supermarket.
We sent an email around to ten friends to tell them what we planned to cook the following week and delivered them two free dinners (a curry and a chicken pie), which we’d cooked in Katherine’s back shed on a couple of camp stoves. The following week we left it up to those initial customers to re-order (but paying this time) and recommend us to others if they liked. We now have over 4400 people receiving our email each week and have bought our own production kitchen in Matraville, in Sydney’s East.
What have been the challenges in starting a local food business?
I think it’s that we have had to learn everything for ourselves as we’ve gone along. It’s hard to find exactly the right information when you’re doing something a bit different from what already exists out there. And the best way to learn is through mistakes; I’m amazed that any of those early customers stuck with us because there were some experiments that possibly didn’t come off (a slow-cooked squid in red wine comes to mind). It probably took us the best part of three years just learning how to upsize a recipe without, say, flooding it with stock. Also, the obvious challenges of starting a business when your children are young and the business, initially, didn’t pay enough to cover childcare, so we’d be working around kids’ sleeps and dinners. I’d go off doing deliveries from the back of the people mover and Katherine would feed all seven of our children together, Joe (my baby) strapped in a car seat on top of a normal seat because Iggy (her youngest) was still in their high chair. On the plus side, it means the kids have really seen how a business grows up close, and they’re all very proud of what we’ve done. (And, not to be sniffed at, we always have heaps of food in the fridge and freezer at home which, now that Freddie and Finn are 15, and the others following close behind, is a big bonus.)
Can you share with us your favourite dishes?
I love all our Indian curries. We’re both married to Englishmen and lived in London in our twenties and have found it hard to get Indian food back here that doesn’t taste like the paste came from a jar, so we love dishes like our chicken and 100 almonds and lamb roghan josh, because they have a complexity that comes from making curry pastes and powders from scratch. But there are so many dishes that we’ll still both taste and look at each other and go, “this is freakin delicious” – there aren’t really any we don’t love.
Thank you to Sophie from The Dinner Ladies for speaking with me and sharing a little of the behind the scenes from The Dinner Ladies. Here are some photos I took of the meals I tried (note that these photos don’t do it justice!)