A good meal has the power to bring people and cultures together, boost moods and often “whet appetites” for more food adventures. That’s exactly what Weinberg Community for Senior Living’s Dining Services team—staffed by Morrison Community Living—is achieving through their latest culinary initiatives. While breakfast, lunch and dinner menus—with enticing choices—are offered daily to residents, the Dining Services Team and Weinberg staff are introducing new ways for residents to “break bread” that shatter the image of the traditional dining experience.
By Nicole Bruce
Residents who consider themselves food enthusiasts are encouraged to become an Honorary Celebrity Chef in order to help the Dining Services Team prepare—and serve to 100-plus other residents—their special family recipes that may have been passed down for generations. Others may choose to sit at the Chef’s Table in the kitchen for an exclusive dinner with a few friends and a glass of wine, in order to take in the “behind the scenes” culinary action. Residents can even partake in reservation-only dinners with special menus or try the dining room’s themed demonstration-style lunches and “action stations,” where our chefs prepare exotic cuisines and serve hot, fresh dishes at the table.
“We’re finding that many of the newer residents are much more food savvy. They’re well- traveled and well-educated, and these are the dining experiences they’re looking for, so we certainly want to continue trying novel things,” said Thomas Slepicka, Weinberg Community’s Director of Dining Services.
Weinberg Dining staff is eager to put the residents’ ever-expanding taste for innovation to the test: “When you have a dining facility that’s on a cycle menu—and it’s the same menu every four weeks—this gives our staff an opportunity to challenge their skills. We give them the chance to come up with different ideas,” said Slepicka. “We were uncertain at first because we were concerned that the residents weren’t that adventurous, but they like the fact that it’s something different.”
While some residents might’ve been hesitant to try different cuisines at first, they’re craving new culinary adventures like Moroccan dishes and Thai stir fry, in addition to baked potato bars, create-your-own burger-stations and the usual tried and true menu items.
“We recently hosted a Taste of Thailand demonstration lunch. The residents here are generally a meat and potatoes crowd, so we wondered if they’d really be interested in Thai cuisine. But the reservation list filled up within a day, and we had a wait list,” said Slepicka. “Chef Will created the stir fry entrée in the room and served residents hot off the woks—a special experience. They’re clamoring for more now.”
Slepicka adds: “Now that we’ve given the residents a taste of something different, not a day goes by when someone doesn’t ask, ‘What are you doing next? When can we expect something new?’”
Sometimes the dining staff doesn’t even have to go very far for enticing new menu ideas. “Most people don’t know that our menu is really resident-inspired. I create the menus based on what I know about our residents,” said Jasmine Cook, Weinberg Community’s Executive Chef. “Many of the items on the menu now are actually recipes from our residents and staff.”
Some residents just want their favorite recipes to be added to the regular dining menu without any recognition, while others become Celebrity Chefs. “A resident gives me a new recipe almost every week. So every month, I’ll look at all the recipes for our Celebrity Chef series,” said Cook.
Cook looks for resident recipes that stand out from other dishes already on the menu, and asks: 1) will it be liked by 75% of the residents; 2) can it be scaled for 100 orders; and 3) can it be kept kosher. Ultimately, she’ll pick the recipe she feels best suits this criteria and hands it off to the morning sous chef, Chef Allan, who works on the recipes directly with the residents. He’ll prep everything, tinker with it and then prepare it with that month’s Celebrity Chef resident.
“The residents, used to preparing their recipe for their family, are amazed by the process as their recipe is scaled up for over 100 people,” said Cook. “Plus, we give them a nice apron as a souvenir and a lot of recognition. Quite a few residents are eager to get in the kitchen, but we only host Celebrity Chef every other month because it requires a lot of effort to pull off.”
Similar to the Netflix docuseries “Chef’s Table,” Weinberg Community’s new program of the same moniker draws the audience into the kitchen for an up-close view of the chef at work. A small group of residents can witness how their dinner is prepared while enjoying their own meals in an intimate kitchen table setting.
“The residents always see what’s going on in the dining room, but they never see where their food is coming from, so we started Chef’s Table,” said Slepicka. “We set up a small table for four to six residents in the kitchen. They get to see all the inner workings of how their meals are prepared—and the other orders in the kitchen at the same time.”
After dinner, residents are also treated to a chef talk to round out the experience. “The residents observe the dinner prep process while enjoying a meal with a bit of wine, and then we explain how the kitchen works,” said Slepicka. “The chef gives them a tour at the end of the event, to see how it’s kept clean and organized.”
The feedback has been positive—and the enthusiasm has spread among residents and staff. “Every resident has enjoyed it and they have a greater appreciation for our culinary operation,” said Slepicka. Cook adds: “We like to keep the residents on their toes and it’s a fun learning experience for our Dining Services.”
Weinberg Community for Senior Living is a premier assisted living campus in Deerfield that provides a warm, supportive environment with engaging life enrichment opportunities to enhance the lives of its residents. For more information or a tour, call 847.374.0500 or visit WeinbergCommunity.net.