By Alexander Germanis
When showing an open house, a popular tactic employed by realtors is to bake fresh chocolate chip cookies in the house’s oven. The aroma filling the otherwise empty house is meant to evoke feelings of comfort and, ultimately, make the clients feel like they’re not just looking at a potential purchase, but they are actually coming home.
The smells and tastes of familiar foods and meals have a power to transport us to other times and places, to make us feel at peace, to help us remember the best times, and to share new moments with friends and family. At Saxony Court Senior Living, this power of food is central to making its residents always feel at home.
Love Starts in the Kitchen
Although food can evoke powerful emotions, it could be argued the emotional power is conveyed through the food by the loving hands that prepared it. Without the knowhow and loving labor of someone in the kitchen, there would be no wonderful memories to enjoy.
At Saxony Court, that love is instilled by the hands of Executive Chef Donald Reid. Honing and refining his skills through a formal education at culinary school, he also completed several internships in restaurants and hotels. There he gained experience in large production cooking, such as preparing sorbet for 1000 people or making 500 chocolate chip cookies in a single batch.
Although he has prepared countless meals over his career, Chef Don traces his love of food and cooking to a time way before professionally feeding untold thousands of people.
“Food has played an important part of my life since childhood. I learned early in my youth that food made my family happy, whether it was because it was made for them, tasted great, or was something new and different,” he recalls.
As enjoyable as preparing food can be, without someone else to enjoy the finished product, the experience misses its key ingredient. “I always had a passion for food and service,” Chef Don says. “One of my first culinary jobs was with a senior living home and I fell in love with the residents. They would stop by the kitchen door to drop off a recipe or comment on the meal or just watch as I decorated a birthday cake. It was then that I realized our shared connection and love of food never tires and never grows old. Food is important at all ages.”
Just as cheese and wine get stronger with age, one’s experiences with food likewise improve, strengthen, and intertwine. Food and feelings meld together in a way no words can fully encapsulate.
“Food is emotional,” Chef Don maintains. “Food is often a comfort here at Accolade Healthcare and Saxony Court Senior Living, while remaining both nutritious and delicious. We pride ourselves on creating a community environment in the dining room where our residents can sit at the table of their choice. They can sit with existing friends or make new ones. Sometimes our residents share their favorite food stories with the whole table. They get to make the table part of their extended family while they swap recipes, compare notes, and taste new things.”
Chef Don understands that camaraderie over a meal all too well. His favorite memories stem from looking forward to the way a meal might change depending on who in the family was present. If his grandmother was there, he knew the gravy would be perfect. If his aunt was visiting, her favorite chicken casserole was always on the menu.
Any time family is involved with food, the emotions can certainly run deep. During Thanksgiving dinner at Saxony Court, the residents help prepare the meal with Chef Don and feed their visiting relatives. “The shared love of the ‘family meal’ becomes so apparent as you witness the laughter at the tables, hear the joy in the sounds in the dining rooms, and meet the extended families that were fed,” he says. “It makes me proud to help our residents create a holiday dinner for their families.”
Of course, love for a favorite meal can be enhanced by love for one another. Recently, Chef Don helped celebrate the 63rd wedding anniversary of a resident couple the best way he knew how. “Those meals are truly some of the most loved because they were always part of their incredible love stories,” he shares.
A Never-ending Challenge
To be able to satisfy so many memories and so many tastebuds is a daily challenge even to someone as experienced and skilled as Chef Don. But he has found the old adage ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ applies to food as well as anything else.
“Our menu is built on the classics!” he declares. “We often get requests for nostalgic classics based on that same flavor each resident grew up with.”
The classics include but are not limited to biscuits and gravy, pancakes with syrup, or a cheese omelet for breakfast. For dinner, meatloaf smothered in ketchup, baked ham with brown sugar glaze, fried chicken with mashed potatoes, sloppy Joes, an updated Accolade lasagna bake, or the Saxony Court pot roast are usually greeted with the best responses from the residents.
Variety, it is said, is the spice of life. That is never truer than with food. Fortunately, the various tastes of the residents are met with equally varied menu choices.
“Our Saxony Signature Burger is made fresh-to-order with grilled onions and your cheese of choice (our favorite is provolone),” Chef Don describes. “But our twist comes in the side of garlic aioli. This provides a punch of flavor—a ‘foodie’ experience for those residents with expanded tastes and an upscale way to accessorize a daily delight. We also offer your choice of grown-up grilled cheese, an Accolade chef salad chock full of meats and cheeses, and the classic chicken bacon ranch sandwich!”
Serving food he has prepared is only half the fun for Chef Don, however. Every month, he also engages with the residents by teaching them how to make the meals as well. “Teaching something new never gets old, especially when a cooking technique is involved,” he says. “Our residents love to see an omelet roll onto a plate, or bananas flambéed with our favorite bourbon to make Bananas Foster, or even the best way to whisk an egg white.”
New Friends Welcomed Home
The power of food is truly remarkable, but only when added to the human component. Sharing meals and memories can make friends of total strangers, as Chef Don has found time and time again. “Often, I make an initial connection with a resident through food. When I meet a new resident, my favorite question is always: ‘Tell me about your favorite meal,’ he says. “I am often brought to tears reminiscing with our residents here about their favorite steak dinner or how Crème Brûlée is their favorite dessert.”
Every time Chef Don adopts and prepares a beloved meal, he expresses his friendship with each resident who moves in. “It’s always a pleasure,” he states, “to be part of a new memory for our residents.”
As residents of Saxony Court settle in for a meal, be it breakfast, lunch, or dinner, they always know they’re in for the best Chef Don can provide. Whether it’s a fluffy omelet, an herb-crusted cut of steak, or a dessert delicacy, the food there has the power to invoke memories of times past, build cherished friendships in the present, and wrap one in the comforting, welcoming arms of home.
Saxony Court Senior Living is located at 500 Centennial Drive in East Peoria, Illinois. If you would like to take a tour of our home, please give us a call at (309) 694-0022 or visit us on the web at www.saxonycourtsl.com.
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