A Chef-Driven Approach to the Menu

Bland buffets are a thing of the past in healthcare and senior-living communities.
Fancy pasta

As baby boomers retire at the rate of 10,000 per day in the U.S. and 1,000 per day in Canada, foodservice in healthcare and senior living is changing. The days of bland buffets and institutional settings are over. There’s a focus on fresh ingredients and regional cuisines; indeed, many resort-style communities deliver dining experiences previously exclusive to five-star restaurants while hospital foodservice is beginning to look more like five-star hotel service.

“The opportunities are huge. Absolutely huge,” says Lynne Eddy, RD, FAND, CHE and Associate Professor of Business Management at the Culinary Institute of America in New York. “Baby boomers expect excellent food. They’ve traveled the world and are food-savvy. We have to supply the skills and ability to bring the benchmark up even further.”

The tastemakers

As the outdated “steam and reheat” model makes way for freshly prepared food choices, care centers are recruiting experienced restaurant chefs. Tasked with creating menus that serve residents and visitors alike while still meeting nutritional guidelines and evolving preferences, these chefs are changing the face of senior-living dining.

Anthony Rizzo is Executive Chef at Viva Mississauga in Ontario, a growing group of senior communities each with its own executive chef. Chef Rizzo offers a new menu daily, complete with seasonal soups and desserts, alongside an à la carte “available-anytime” menu. While his daily menu may offer exotic dishes like chicken tagine or Korean barbecue, the à-la-carte version offers fresh salads, sandwiches, all-day breakfast options, and prime steaks butchered in house.

“Our motto is to get the absolute best product and never cut corners,” he says. “We have access to lots of local product, like the amazing ham we use in our sandwiches. And we do a lot of farm-to-table, which our residents appreciate.”

Ron Mayer, Executive Chef at Florida Presbyterian Homes, works closely with staff and residents to provide outstanding food that meets everyone’s needs.

“We have a registered dietitian along with a food committee made up of residents, and there’s a combined 70 years of foodservice experience between the Director of Dining Services and myself,” he says.

“We’re able to bounce ideas off each other and come up with fabulous choices.” Florida Presbyterian Homes is continuously expanding its dining amenities, and features an upscale dinner once a month. “In October,” Mayer says, “we celebrated Oktoberfest with sauerbraten and wiener schnitzel. It was a huge success.”

Eric Moore, owner of Hospitology Consulting, is a food and dining specialist in healthcare and senior living. He believes the dining experience is much more than just sustenance. “We’ve moved toward communities that have multiple dining areas, each with its own concept—from bistro to fine-dining—that is more specific to the experience.” He suggests programs such as an “epicurean afternoon” that centers on a specific geographic area (say, Tuscany) and includes a multimedia presentation and sampling of regional specialties. “It’s an opportunity for chefs to introduce new foods, but it’s also fun and engaging.”

The bottom line? A chef-driven approach brings creativity and flexibility to the table, making it easier to provide choices for both those who crave traditional foods and for more adventurous diners.

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