What do you fancy for dinner? An authentic Pakistani karahi gosht stew? A Fijian chicken curry? Maybe finish it all off with a slice of Filipino custard cake? A new social enterprise business means you can have all of those things while supporting culturally and linguistically diverse women to overcome barriers to employment.
Her Kitchen Table is a new meal delivery service with a big difference. Instead of ordering from restaurants or cafes, you can order meals made by women in Canberra’s multicultural community.
The project is run by The Social Outcomes Lab, founded by economist Nazia Ahmed. They were engaged by Initiatives for Women to run a series of workshops to determine the barriers to employment faced by multicultural women in Canberra.
“Skills not being recognised, discrimination, language barriers and not having the right networks – these are the challenges to getting a job and being economically empowered,” Nazia told Region Media.
“So we came up with this idea and said, ‘So what if we remove those barriers so someone can get into employment straight away?'”
The Her Kitchen Table team has been training a diverse group of home cooks they call ‘meal artists’ to start selling the food they love to cook.
Each meal artist receives food safety training as well as business basics. They then work with trained chef Nazrul ‘Jewel’ Islam, who helps them develop their recipes, makes sure they have all the ingredients and equipment they need, and supervises their progress.
Through the business training, each cook works out how much they should sell their dishes for, covering their costs and wage.
“The meal artists set their own prices and customers pay what they set. Because we’re a social enterprise and the goal is to become financially sustainable, we put a surcharge on top of that, which is passed onto the customer. So the meal artist keeps everything that they charge,” Nazia says.
Each meal artist has an ABN and essentially functions as a separate small business under the Her Kitchen Table umbrella. This also allows them to grow those businesses independently further into the future.
Flexibility for the meal artists is an important factor for the project. Each woman is welcome to cook as much or as little as she can, and by having customers order in advance, they can plan their work in advance.
Arriving at their headquarters at the Weston Creek Community Centre, I was a little lost until I inhaled the most wonderful smell of spices cooking. Nose in the air, I followed the scent and found the kitchen.
Meal artists Sakina Husseini and Shahla Hashmi were both in the kitchen with Chef Jewel making their first dishes. Sakina’s sister had come to support her, and take care of her baby while she worked. Time and space were made for the women to pray, and a celebratory lunch was served.
Over lunch, the meal artists told me that their first day of cooking was going ‘surprisingly well’, with several dishes finished in the morning and another person arriving to do some baking in the afternoon.
Food is currently available to be picked up between 5 pm and 7 pm on Monday evenings, with an option for home delivery. I ordered a couple of different dishes to reheat at home and share with friends.
All the choices were delicious, but the kabuli pulao – an Afghan rice and meat dish – and the spicy beef chapli kebabs were standouts. The meat in the pulao was incredibly tender, and the raisins and pistachio pieces made every bite interesting. The chapli kebab stayed juicy even after reheating and the spices were perfect. We ate cassava cake for dessert, a new flavour for me. I found it slightly unusual, but I definitely enjoyed it.
There are now seven meal artists online, and more are in the process of training, so keep an eye out for more new and delicious meals on the website over the next few months. Nazia tells me they plan to expand across Canberra and hopefully open a dedicated cafe to provide regular, ongoing employment for their meal artists.
So plan ahead and treat yourselves to a delicious dinner from Her Kitchen Table.