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How Aussie mum earns a living from her kitchen

Here's how Amber Sanderson makes it work. Images: Getty, Supplied
Here's how Amber Sanderson makes it work. Images: Getty, Supplied

There’s nothing like a delicious home-cooked meal. But many Australians don’t have the desire to haul out the pots and pans every night, and it’s something home cook Amber Sanderson has taken advantage of.

Five years ago, the hospitality veteran was involved at her children’s school canteen when a friend suggested she go one step further and sell her delicious meals to families for dinners and lunches.

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“It started from there. Initially I had a small mailing list of parents at the school that I started cooking for and then it just grew over time,” she told Yahoo Finance.

“It was a good way to get back into hospitality [coupled with] the convenience of working from home because I could get my home kitchen registered and still be around my kids and still have that sort of creativity and, essentially, at the end of the day, cook for people how I like to cook for my family.”

Now, Sanderson cooks for community members, parents from school and friends through the Cookaborough platform, a platform that helps cooks calculate and track running costs and orders.

With 120 customers on her database, in any given week between 45 and 50 will place an order. The average order is $65.70, and means Sanderson makes around $3,000 a week before costs, which can be quite variable.

Sanderson moved to the platform earlier this year after five years running the books herself.

A typical week’s menu planning

Amber has used her cooking skills to build a business. Image: Supplied
Amber has used her cooking skills to build a business. Image: Supplied

A typical week for the home cook will see her share the upcoming menu on Cookaborough Wednesday, with orders flowing in until 5pm on Friday.

That menu is based on what’s seasonal, with the chef placing ingredient orders through her butcher and fruit and vegetable suppliers. Then, she’ll cook the meals so they’re available for pickup or delivery on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday the following week.

And since the coronavirus crisis unleashed on Australia, business is booming.

“Customers that would order occasionally were ordering all the time, [and] people were ordering greater quantities. So as this all sort of took off, there was a huge increase in demand for meals,” Sanderson told Yahoo Finance.

While she knew an average serve would cost customers between $9.50 and $10, she admits she was flying fairly blind in terms of the more particular in- and outgoing costs of the business.

Since the beginning of the year, profitability has been variable: the bushfires dented supply of fresh fruit and vegetables while also changing costs, something that has also been exacerbated by Covid-19.

“I'm sort of readjusting things and having to change my pricing and the things I choose to cook with now even more than I did beforehand,” she said.

Here's what you need to do to become a home cook. Image: Getty
The way Amber supplies her food has changed. Image: Getty

Suppliers also saw a surge in demand at the beginning of March before a decline as the lift from panic buying gave way to severely reduced restaurant orders.

“Because it was such a dramatic change in things, it just requires that bit of extra thought. So whereas at the beginning of the year, I would have planned my menu for the coming months, now I'm finding I'm doing it more on a week-by-week basis around what I know I can get and how much of it I can get.”

She cooks all meals from scratch, and offers meals in three sizes: singles, couples and families.

“At this time of year, I’ll be coming into lots of slow cooking, casseroles and curries,” she said.

“Over the summer I try and focus on fresh salads.”

Sample menu

These are Sanderson’s most popular menu items. She’ll usually offer three of these per week.

  • Beef Massaman Curry

  • Eggplant Parmigiana

  • Moroccan Chicken

  • Classic Lasagna

  • Spanakopita

  • Salmon Fishcakes

  • Chicken and vegetable pot pie

  • Beetroot & quinoa burgers

  • Green goodness soup

  • Gluten & dairy free roast vegetable lasagne

Sanderson will provide the main portion of a meal, like a curry or spanakopita, and customers will then top it up with a side like mashed potatoes, salad or rice.

“I rotate my menu a lot, I might do popular dishes like lasagne or Mexican pulled pork a couple of times a year because they’re really big sellers – everyone loves them. But otherwise I’m always trying to bring in new recipes because I find that more interesting.”

Operating out of a home kitchen means she has limited space to stockpile supplies, meaning more trips to the shops and deliveries.

This too, has been impacted by coronavirus. She’d normally purchase spices for her beef curry from an Indian grocer as she needs them, choosing not to stockpile those ingredients.

“I’ve had to think that through differently in light of the current situation.”

Can I become a home cook?

Midsection of man cutting vegetables. Cropped image of male is preparing food. He is working in kitchen.
This is what you need to know. Image: Getty

Sanderson says her years in the catering and hospitality industry helped her launch her home cooking business, but says the first few years were still a steep learning curve, and will be for any home chef looking to monetise their cooking.

She said the biggest lessons have been around her preferred methods of operation, and where she draws the line between home and work.

But as long as the passion is there, Sanderson believes any cook can make it work.

“You have to personalise it to what works for you, whether you’re a family or not a family, what your resources are like in your kitchen and how much you’re willing to put into it,” she said.

“The biggest driving force is the passion behind it, in something like this, because you’re not just going out and doing the same thing every day. That passion is the underlying part of it.”

And, the passion can “be a trap”, if cooks aren’t prepared to monitor the hours they spend cooking and the amount they spend on the business, she added.

“But it’s the passion, and what I’m trying to create is the driving force. I’ve learned and I’ve tried to make things up as I go along. If the passion is there, you make it work.”

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