After her freelance work dried up due to the pandemic, Serena McIvor took the fate of her business into her own hands and launched a new service.
When you are a freelance chef, client work is your bread and butter. And for Serena McIvor, it was losing her international and local clients who she would regualrly cook for and take on food tours disappearing overnight that inspired her to launch a new sister firm.
However, after taking some time during the first lockdown back in March last year to think about what she wanted to do, Serena decided dine-at-home kits were her best option.
Fast forward a few months later and Serena, who has 30 years’ experience in food and drink, has now established her own dine-at-home business, The Home Menu, after launching it in November from her home in Auchterarder.
She said: “I’m a freelance chef and have been in the food and drink industry since I left school. We moved to Perthshire a good few years ago after living in Dinnet in Deeside and I went back to cooking when we moved. With my food experience firm Secret Menu Scotland I had some fabulous clients locally and internationally who I have worked with through and when Covid-19 hit all of that sadly stopped.
“For me I wanted to showcase some incredible places Scotland had to offer and food is so big here that I wanted to shout about how high quality it is.
“I invested a lot of time into Secret Menu Scotland and didn’t really know what to do with myself apart from gardening during the first lockdown. I wanted to do something though, so set up The Home Menu which I launched in November last year. I have a semi-commercial kitchen at home, but I’m looking into various premises in the Auchterarder area to move into when I finally get the go-ahead. I have a lot of companies interested in doing virtual dinners for their staff so that has been great.”
Offering up a range of cuisine from across the world to try, Serena enjoys putting her own twist on dishes and also offers a vegetarian alternative to most of her menus.
She added: “I think lockdown really has made people realise what they have around them. It has been tough on small producers so I really enjoy using them in my variety of menus. I love cooking and the enjoyment others get from food.
“All my food comes ready to heat in boxes and it is really easy to cook in the oven. All the customers have to do is wash up a few dishes they will use. I think a lot of my customers really like that about it. I don’t think this mentality will change much, and I know people will be keen to eat out again, but I think more people will order dine-at-home offerings more often as it is a nice treat and a good way of not spending as much money as you can have your own wine. Some people may not feel comfortable going out again for a while.
“I like to vary things a bit from the classic French cuisine and Scottish dishes, so like to add in Indian dishes and dishes like Thai curry with fish, too. It is amazing to see the interest in the different menus and it does make for a nice change.”
Six Nations Scotland
On the back of the Six Nations rugby championship, Serena has launched a new menu offering, featuring a range of Six Nations-inspired meals.
For every team Scotland plays, she has come up with a menu to reflect the cuisine of their opponent. There is a French, Italian and Irish menu available on the website currently.
“It was one of those fun things I came up with. It would be great for a group of people who usually go to the rugby together, but can’t. You can just order the same box and it is almost like you are all together in one shape or form.
“I think cooking could sometimes get so monotonous if you did the same thing all the time and doing something like this which is really fun, and fun for the customers, too, is always good.”
Offering local delivery to those living in the Auchterarder, Perth and Kinross areas, the freelance chef has also reached out to a local drinks firm WoodWinters to be able to offer her customers the chance to purchase wines, beers and other products to go alongside their meals.
The boxes themselves are a minimum order of two and are priced at £30 per person. Delivery is also available to the rest of the UK for an additional charge.
Serena added: “I do local delivery to the Aucherarder, Perth and Kinross areas, and courier my food elsewhere in the UK. I’ve had orders from as far as London and it has been wonderful seeing how far the boxes have travelled. I charge additional for delivery, but because I had owned the Deeside Smokehouse when I lived up north a few years ago now, I knew how to send food chilled and via courier so it was quite easy to set up.
“I also collaborate with local firm WoodWinters in Bridge of Allan as at a restaurant you’d usually be able to get wines or drinks paired to your meal. Instead of getting my own license I decided it was best to just add a button on my website which directs you to their website. You can order directly from them and then I will pick it up and it will be delivered with your meal.
“Smaller businesses really appreciate the support of locals and people ordering across the UK. I’m in the middle of nowhere so to be able to do what I do is amazing. I’m looking to grow it to be producing 70 to 80 meals a weekend, similar to restaurants in cities like Edinburgh, and the support is hugely appreciated.”