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Spicing up senior living kitchens

August 25, 2011
by Grace Zarnas-Hoyer
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Residents get a ‘taste’ of the competition in this Iron Chef America spinoff

With the increasing popularity of the Food Network, one can find shows on celebrity chefs, recipe ideas for that perfect party, bizarre foods of the world, and most importantly, knowledge of where our food comes from. The trend for food knowledge just keeps growing and now has many older adults who reside at senior living communities viewing food as a source of entertainment, comfort, and camaraderie—all while enjoying unique flavors and fresh, exciting menu items.

With the increasing popularity of the Food Network, one can find shows on celebrity chefs, recipe ideas for that perfect party, bizarre foods of the world, and most importantly, knowledge of where our food comes from. The trend for food knowledge just keeps growing and now has many older adults who reside at senior living communities viewing food as a source of entertainment, comfort, and camaraderie—all while enjoying unique flavors and fresh, exciting menu items.

Recently, a “Chefs’ Challenge” event at Peter Becker Community (PBC), a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) offering a range of services from residential living to nursing care in Harleysville, Pennsylvania, inspired residents to create a three-course meal. According to PBC President and CEO Carol Berster, the goal is to find new and unique ways to please residents. “Things have obviously changed since I started working in this industry back in 1976. My goal is to create a place where people can live differently. It’s wonderful how through these endeavors, you see people come to life and have fun with food,” says Berster.

In 2009, the Chefs’ Challenge was created in collaboration with PBC dining services’ partner, Cura Hospitality. “This idea came to us when the American Association of Homes & Services for the Aging (now LeadingAge) held its annual meeting in Philadelphia a few years ago and had a Chefs’ Challenge among some of the dining services management companies that serve its members. Since Cura won the event, it got me thinking that we could do this at Peter Becker,” says Berster.

Berster and her team decided to hold the Chefs’ Challenge during PBC’s annual flower show, which attracts 8,000 people from Harleysville and Philadelphia-area communities. “The flower show helps us reach out to many people who might not come to see Peter Becker as part of searching for a retirement community, but when they visit during the flower show, tour the community, and see what the food can be like—maybe they are ready to take a look,” says Berster.

MEETING THE CHALLENGE

Team Ryle wins Chefs’ Challenge. From left to right: Richard Pospistle, Kelley Noble and Anne Williams.

Two teams of three people face-off in this cooking competition styled after the Food Network’s Iron Chef America program. PBC residents are invited to don their chef whites and compete alongside PBC chefs. Resident “guest” sous chefs are permitted to bring one ingredient of their choice, while PBC chefs, managed by Cura, provide pantry items such as flour, sugar, spices, fresh herbs, produce, pork, poultry, and beef.

Each team has 1.5 hours to prepare three plated courses (appetizer, main entrée, and dessert) using a secret ingredient in each course that is unveiled the day of the show. Berster chose salsify, a member of the aster family that has an inner milky, sticky substance similar to that of a coconut. “Selecting the secret ingredient is the most interesting part to me. It brings up some ‘food’ discussion among residents,” she adds. The unusual vegetable was not so foreign to the audience. “I love it,” said one resident when asked if anyone had ever heard of salsify.

Teams prepare three servings and one “show plate” of each course for a panel of three judges. While cooking experience is not a prerequisite, some residents do have culinary expertise. Marge Janoski, 88, has served as a resident “guest” judge for the past three years. She is a college graduate who received culinary arts training sponsored by the Statler Hotels and she is certified by the American Restaurant Association. Although retired from teaching home economics in Princeton and Wayne, New Jersey schools, Mrs. Janoski still enjoys baking and watching others cook. “I enjoy the Iron Chef show, but now I pay more attention to how they judge,” she laughs.

Team scores were calculated based upon a 20-point system, with a maximum of 10 points given for taste, five for presentation, and five for originality. The final scores were separated by only a two-point difference, according to Berster.

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What a fantastic idea, tried to do similar in Australia - you have inspired me to do the same again. Cheers Ralph

Dr Ralph Hampson
Aged Care Consultant, Melbourne, VIctoria
rhampson@me.com

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