Katherine Westwood and Sophie Gilliatt The Dinner Ladies Interview
Victorians can order the delicious home style and home delivered dinners from The Dinner Ladies at www.dinnerladies.com.au
The Dinner Ladies came up with the idea for their successful business when one of their friends, a time-poor working mother, offered to pay Sophie to cook her some dinners.
That was ten years ago. Now The Dinner Ladies have 12,000 regularly nourished customers in Sydney and this week their site is live for orders to be delivered in Melbourne metro, Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Yarra Ranges, Central Highlands and Mornington Peninsula.
Dinner is a very important time of the day and The Dinner Ladies' mission is to see that people enjoy this precious time with family and friends without the stress of planning, preparing and putting dinner on the table every day.
Despite the success and growth of the business the Ladies refuse to compromise on their philosophy of cooking each dish as though it were for their own families. The freshness of the food is paramount and they make absolutely everything from scratch – every stock, every paste, every pastry and every sauce. The proof is in the taste.
'I'm excited to be offering our product and service in Melbourne and Victoria because I'm a Melbourne girl. Melbourne is a food city with lots of food choices and people here really care about what they eat. It was in this city I learned to love food and the possibilities with flavours and tastes. The Dinner Ladies offers so much choice. We take our influences from around the world but also reference recipes handed down through generations plus we change our menu weekly," says Katherine Westwood.
'What is most important to us is our food is honest, nourishing of body and soul and full of flavour. We love that we have an added feel-good element to our business because we are helping people live less stressful lives through offering quality wholesome food cooked with heart. It's one less thing people, who don't want to cook or can't, have to think about" says Sophie Gilliatt.
The Dinner Ladies dinners are made every day and snap frozen for freshness and delivery. Simple thawing and reheating is all that's needed for some while others require a little oven time. Their menu changes weekly so customers can look forward to new tastes and flavours on a regular basis.
Like us on Instagram @thedinnerladies and Facebook @dinnerladiessydney
Interview with Katherine Westwood and Sophie Gilliatt
Question: What is The Dinner Ladies?
Katherine Westwood and Sophie Gilliatt: The Dinner Ladies is a home-delivered dinner service. Our aim is to take the stress out of preparing dinner - we cook for our customers in the same way we cook for our families. I guess you could call it home cooking - only better.
Question: What inspired the concept of The Dinner Ladies?
Katherine Westwood and Sophie Gilliatt: One day I (Sophie speaking here) was complaining to one of my friends that I didn't have any money to buy my husband a birthday present – I was at home with my third child who was a baby at the time. My friend, who was working as a lawyer and had two small children, said that she'd pay me if I cooked for her. There actually was very little available then besides takeaway or supermarket meals so I thought, haha! If she's prepared to pay for me to cook her dinner, there might be a lot of other busy people out there who could use a service like that, too.
Question: How has your business changed, ten years on?
Katherine Westwood and Sophie Gilliatt: We started in Katherine's backyard shed cooking dinners on two camp stoves propped on a converted trailer. We would shop on a Monday and cook on the Tuesday and then I would drive around delivering the food while Katherine bathed and fed our seven kids. That first week we cooked two dishes and sent them out to ten friends for free. Today we have a fully operational commercial kitchen and employ 30-odd staff. We now send our menu to around 15,000 customers every week. (And it's not free anymore!)
Question: Can you share with us, how you've overcome business challenges during this time?
Katherine Westwood and Sophie Gilliatt: It really helps having two of us – we bounce ideas off each other and if one of us despairs, the other one pulls her up. We've always kept our eye on the small picture, putting one foot in front of the other, and focussed on the two pillars of any business – a good product and great service. And I know it's a cliché, but you do learn the most from your mistakes.
Question: Why is it important, to you, to cook all your meals from scratch?
Katherine Westwood and Sophie Gilliatt: Our food tastes like it was made with care by someone at home because we use proper ingredients and take no short cuts. For example a Bolognese only has a handful of ingredients but every stage of the cooking is important – and time is the most important ingredient of them all. Everyone reaches for a jar of curry paste or some ready-made pastry every so often but then the food all starts to taste the same; also, prepared ingredients often use a lot of stuff – preservatives, flavour-enhancers, colourings, etc – that we'd rather do without. We like to say that there's nothing in our dinners that your grandmother wouldn't have recognised – as long as she was a particularly well-travelled and sophisticated grandmother.
Question: Can you share with us a recipe from The Dinner Ladies?
Katherine Westwood and Sophie Gilliatt: Our Sri Lankan snapper curry with chickpeas and baby spinach.
Question: Which of your recipes is your favourite to cook and why?
Katherine Westwood and Sophie Gilliatt: I love all the dishes with Asian flavours, like our stir fries where we send out the marinated sliced meat or chicken and a finishing sauce and you have to do the final cooking at home with vegies, and then some of the really simple dishes, like our citrus-brined chicken. It relies on a good, free-range bird, brined overnight with herbs and citrus and I promise you will never taste a more delicious, succulent roast chicken.
Question: Name five ingredients you could not live without:
Katherine Westwood and Sophie Gilliatt: Onion and garlic – two ingredients but they might as well be one. So many dishes from every part of the globe start with this humble duo.
Pork – in all its glory, as pancetta, bacon, chorizo, belly, shoulder, sausages. Yum.
Fennel – fennel seed and bulb add different gentle liquorice notes to so many favourite dishes.
Citrus zest – in curry pastes, marinades and salads, it adds freshness and zing.
Fresh coriander – probably our favourite herb, in Mexican, South-East Asian and Indian dishes, it's indispensable.
Question: Where do you see The Dinner Ladies in three years?
Katherine Westwood and Sophie Gilliatt: We would really like to be delivering into all states by then. This month was Victoria and next on the cards is Queensland but we still need to introduce Western Australia and South Australia and maybe even Tassie and NT to the mix. Logistics will be our big challenge. We would love to be able to get good food on the table of every household in Australia!
Question: What advice do you have for women who wish to start their own businesses?
Katherine Westwood and Sophie Gilliatt: Get the essentials right and just do it – don't wait for the stars to align and for everything to be perfect. And start small if you can. If you have money in your pocket after your first week, it will give you courage for your second week. Which you'll need. And don't discount the skills you've picked up outside the workforce - put them to work for you and you'll have a business that truly reflects who you are, which is all you can hope for.
Interview by Brooke Hunter