Thank you so much to Julie Broczkowski, chef and owner of Magic Fridge for your time! Magic Fridge is an Ottawa based personal chef service that helps take the stress out of meal time on those hectic nights. Visit www.themagicfridge.com for more information.

(Simply Fresh) Tell me a little bit about the idea behind Magic Fridge? 

(Julie B) We want to let our clients live their lives, as they want, free of the stress that just about every day brings at supper time, and have more time to spend doing what they love; hobbies, spending time with family, or finding that elusive personal down-time.  Figuring out what to eat, whether the ingredients are in stock at home or if you have to pick it up on your way home, then usually stopping at the grocery store…. you’re stressed before you even start cooking!  Then you have to cook when you are hungry, in a rush, tired from work.  This is what we eliminate.  Our clients have their meals planned, shopped for and waiting for them at home at the end of the day.

What made you want to start a business like Magic Fridge?

I always liked cooking, even as a child, but when the time came to think about a career, I knew I didn’t want to work in a restaurant.  With the odd hours and so much stress and noise, it wasn’t the place for me.  I went to university and studied chemical engineering and chemistry – I have a BSc in applied chemistry – and worked in labs in the natural resources sector for several years.  Then I read an article about personal chefs in the newspaper and realized that there were other options besides restaurants.  But I liked my job, and wasn’t much into taking big risks at that time, so I posted the article on my fridge and went on with my life.  About a year later, I got laid off from my job.  I thought I would give the chef thing a try, and if it worked, great, if not, I would go back to working in a lab.  That was almost nine years ago. 

Your website, www.themagicfridge.com says that all the meals you provide can be personalized to your clients tastes. What are the most common food requests you receive? Do people want family favorites, or do you find yourself making more complicated meals that parents may not have time to make themselves?

Everyone wants something different… some clients come to us because they have food allergies, medical issues, a diet plan from their fitness trainer, or some other food goal or hurdle that they are dealing with.  For those people, we lift the burden and the constant worry of “is this right for me?” that can come from struggles with food, whatever they may be.  I have food sensitivities myself, so I know how hard it is.  But in the absence of these issues, people seem to want home cooking, whether it is traditional like meatloaf with mashed potatoes or chicken and salad, or more global, with curries, lasagne and various soups and stews from different ethnic cuisines.  Since we cook such a wide array of foods, when people ask what our specialty is, I say, “Home cooking” – it means different things to different people.

Cooking for others can be a real challenge. What tips can you offer to those of us who want to ensure that we make the best meal possible for guests?

If you know your guests well, ask them if there are any food issues to look out for – vegetarians, allergies, even strong dislikes.  It would be a shame for someone to try to choke down something they really don’t like when you could easily have made something else. If you don’t know your guests well enough to discuss it, try to keep things as separate as possible.  My “go-to” meal for an occasion like that is roasted vegetables with olive oil, salt and pepper (people can pick out what they don’t like) and a separately roasted chicken (gravy served separately), with a side of a bean salad in case of vegetarians. 

But don’t make a big deal about food issues at the event itself . As someone with food allergies, I know I prefer to deal with it privately, as do most people.  A quiet aside before the meal is served is a much better time to talk about it than an announcement at the table.   And in the end, people are there to see you, not your food, and they want to enjoy their time with you.  Don’t ruin it with apologies, stressing and fussing!

Your website states that one of the greatest benefits of using a service like Magic Fridge is all the extra time my family could spend together around the dinner table. Why do you think it is important for families to eat together?

I feel that eating meals with family is extremely important.  I eat supper with my husband at least six nights every week, usually more -it’s our time to share and decompress from our workdays and to treat ourselves on weekends.  For people with children, it’s one of the best times to keep the communication lines open; if it’s a pleasant, stress-free time, that facilitates communication even more. 

Many of my clients tell me that the meals are nice, but the relaxed time with their families at home is the best part of having a Magic Fridge.  If your kids get in the habit of sharing their thoughts and feelings at the dinner table when they are young, odds are they will continue into the less communicative teen years as well.  Health-wise, kids who eat at home eat better than those who don’t, and are less likely to be overweight – in a time when parents protect their kids from so many things, bad unhealthy food seems to be far down on their “enemies” list.  For this reason alone, it should become more important to eat together.

Thank you again Julie!

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