“Food is not just fuel. Food is about family, food is about community, food is about identity, and we nourish all those things when we eat well.”
– Michael Pollan
It is inevitable that when someone thinks of dining in Senior Living communities, they undoubtedly face the stigma of that experience. For some, they may feel the food is boring or bland, and for others, they believe it often is overcooked and uninspired. This stigma was the driving force that inspired both Chefs to expand their knowledge and expertise and broaden the senior palette by introducing dishes that offer new innovative flavors and ingredients.
There are five central areas that you “CAN” focus on concerning the dining experience and transitioning your kitchen into a “from scratch” kitchen; food, service, engagement, design, and innovation. With these five components, it is essential to understand the current trends of the culinary industry and how these can be appropriately adapted to fit the senior living dining experience.
Expanding the menu allows you to offer an abundance of choices instead of limiting the options to a select entrée list. Previously it was popular to utilize corporate menus for meal planning however the current trend is to maintain an individual chef-designed menu. Why is that you ask? For starters, canned and frozen food is a thing of the past! Cooking with fresh and seasonal food keeps us ahead of the trend to satisfy those advanced cravings. Let’s face the facts when you prepare with real food you can expect real benefits!
Elevating the dining experience to meet the restaurant style dining expectation helps to create an inviting atmosphere that residents and their families will desire. Presentation, as in most everything, is critical. When you dine out you don’t expect to use paper and plastic utensils which is why you won’t see that in our dining rooms; the tables are adorned with fresh, clean linens, cloth napkins, and silverware. Setting the tone is important as well, light music and classy yet straightforward seasonal décor can enhance the theme and ambiance of the overall space.
Finally, but indeed the most crucial aspect is the service aspect of the culinary experience. The dining at meals for seniors should not include self-service, this being said, Chef Andrew and Chef Rina highlighted the importance of taking the “self” out of “service.” From the moment you initially walk into the dining room, you should be able to expect to be greeted and seated and have ample time to review the menu before the orders are taken for beverages and food. Once the food has been delivered, it is courtesy to maintain what we call a “2 bites check back” which allows the server to ensure that the meal measures up to the resident’s expectations and if it doesn’t, help to correct by substituting another entrée option of their choosing. Consistent and appropriate timing to table bus allows the residents and their families and peers to continue visiting without a distraction of plates. Remember that it is appropriate and important to offer dessert with the accompaniment of either coffee or tea to help conclude the meal.
Chef Andrew, from Carlton Senior Living Davis, has a culinary background rich in culture and diversity. He graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York in 2006. Upon graduation, he went on to pursue a year of advanced studies from the Sichuan Institute of Higher Learning in Chengdu, China in 2007. He joined the Carlton Senior Living family in 2014 and continued to grow and expand his reach in the culinary field explicitly concerning the senior living dining experience.
Chef Rina, a three-time Food Network champion, graduated in 2006 from the San Diego Culinary Institute. Since beginning her career with Oakmont Senior Living in 2013, she has continued to grow within the company and currently holds the role of Senior Regional Director of Culinary.
Chef Andrew Moret and Chef Rina Younan collaborated on this presentation for this year’s 2018 Spring California Assisted Living Association (CALA) Conference. The focus of the presentation was to challenge the status quo of Senior Living dining one idea at a time.
Content for this blog article was provided by Chef Andrew Moret and Chef Rina Younan.