You look fabulous, you’re a hit at the office, and you have fistfuls of social invites. You’re meticulously dressed, well coiffed, and you’re totally rocking the new tan.
Your dirty little secret is your fridge, which contains exactly two items: mustard and white wine. You might not have a lot of skills in the kitchen, but one detail keeps your culinary failings from being an issue — you never cook at home.
A whole cottage industry has sprung up around busy professionals in this predicament. Melissa Nigi moved from Halifax to Ottawa two-and-a-half years ago and brought her company, Marvelous Mouthfuls, with her.
“I make several weeks of prepared meals according to clients’ dietary needs,” she says. Nigi meets with clients to discuss their dietary needs, develops a menu, shops for food, cooks meals with her own equipment in the client’s kitchen, and then cleans the kitchen. Two weeks of meals for one adult cost $200 plus the cost of ingredients.
“My demographic is a mixture between people who are busy professionals, people who don’t like cooking, people who are elderly or on special diets, and people who don’t want to eat out,” she says. “It’s healthy, tasty food and it saves time.”
Erick Le Pors, who runs an Ottawa cooking service called Dial-A-Chef, agrees that “these days, the challenge is to fit everyone with the food allergies and diet restrictions.”
Like Nigi, busy professionals make up a healthy slice of Le Pors’ clientele.
Le Pors focusses his business on “in-house catering, cooking and demonstration” rather than prepared meals. He customizes a menu for a client and comes to the client’s house with “all the groceries, the knives in a toolbox, and all the cooking gear” needed to prepare the meal. He arranges for a bartender and tableware rental if necessary.
“I cook, I serve, and by the time the people finish dessert the kitchen is clean and the dishes done,” says Le Pors.
Eric Patenaude and his husband Todd Christopher own Todric’s Catering, which offers home and corporate catering and cooking classes as well as prepared meals. Their “chef-at-home” catering service consists of a five-course to seven-course dinner with wine.
“We discuss with clients what kind of food they want served; we arrive an hour before the guests and serve,” says Patenaude. “The soup and dessert are done in our kitchen.”
“Having a restaurant come to your home, you have the freedom of deciding exactly the spices on your rack of lamb,” says Patenaude. He also believes it cuts costs. “You can save 30 percent of the cost on food and a fortune on the wine.”
Patenaude and Christopher run a 57-seat “boutique” on Albert Street and also sell frozen meals. “A lot of caterers buy premade skewers and sauce, but in our kitchen everything is made from scratch,” Patenaude says.
Patenaude says he and Christopher try to use fruits and vegetables in their meals “rather than a lot of dough.”
“Scallops and lamb are two things we do very, very well,” he adds, “as well as bison and deer and duck. We try to use regional cuisine as much as possible.”
Le Pors says in-home catering is growing in popularity because “it is always better to entertain at home, to sit at the table, not to worry about the food, and to enjoy the company of the guests,” he says.
“A lot of people don’t know how to cook healthy, tasty food,” Nigi adds. “Here [in Ottawa] the cooking business has done well.”