Erika Gradecki of New London, owner of Food For Your Soul, LLC., a personal chef business based in Waterford, prepares a meal at the home of Amy Hendry, not in photo, and Joe McGinnis, left, of Waterford, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Amy Hendry figures she works five different jobs, and her boyfriend Joe McGinnis is always on the run himself as he spends weeks at a time out of town helping launch a start-up tech company.
They never seem to have time or energy for a leisurely, well-balanced meal, especially when they are carting Amy's daughter Lilly, 12, around to athletic events.
So when they heard Erika Gradecki of New London had started a personal-chef business called Food for Your Soul, they naturally were curious. Could this be the magic elixir to a calmer, more nutritious lifestyle?
"I love to eat well, but it's a lot of work," Amy said. "We always feel rushed."
The family, which lives on Rope Ferry Road, was looking for well-balanced meals without the hassles of buying and preparing all the ingredients. And they have found having a personal chef not only takes the stress out of meal time, it actually is cost-effective as well.
"It's always a nice treat," Joe said.
"You think it's very expensive, but it's not," Amy added. "We're certainly middle class."
Gradecki, who previously worked in the catering business, started her personal-chef service last summer, whipping up everything from backyard barbecues to nine-course Japanese meals. It started mostly with people she knew, but she soon branched out through networks and promotional events to develop a list of regular clients.
"I always loved food," she said. "I wanted to make it fun and creative, with special garnishes."
Gradecki charges by the job, sitting down with clients beforehand so she knows their likes and dislikes, food allergies, dietary concerns and budget.
"The biggest misconception people have (about personal chefs) is that it's for the rich and famous," Gradecki said. "It's really affordable."
Gradecki figures the average meal costs about the same as a nice dinner out, without the need to tip the waitstaff. It's also a more relaxing experience, she said, because people are enjoying a meal in the comfort of their own home.
It's also simpler for Gradecki, who doesn't have to worry about the licenses required for commercially licensed kitchens since she is doing all the cooking at personal residences. She had to be certified as a food handler, and insurance is required, but there are no health-department inspections.
"It's pretty cool," she said. "I handle what I can handle."
Amy said Gradecki has become so interwoven in family meal time that she now prepares dishes two to three times a week. Chicken enchiladas and barbecued chicken are some of their favorite meals, but no dish is ever quite the same the second time around.
"She's always experimenting," Amy said of Gradecki. "She always looking for something that's balanced."
Gradecki said having someone prepare a meal at home is a nice alternative for people stuck in a rut of eating Chinese or pizza every day.
"A lot of people can eat healthier," she said.
And for families watching Gradecki put together a meal on the fly, there's a little bit of a show as well.
"It's like Food Network in your own home," she said. "It's company. It's somebody to talk to."