Throughout the Lower Mainland and across Vancouver Island retirees are hanging up home ownership in favour of easy living in residences that provide varying arrangements and degrees of care. One of the important aspects of that care inevitably includes planning, preparing and serving meals - because who doesn’t love to eat?
Aging tastebuds, however, demand special attention. Gerontologists have noted that the loss of taste or smell can be a primary reason for nutritional shortcomings among seniors. Research indicates the senses have a direct link to physical and mental health, and that improving the quality and hence the enjoyment of food can boost the immune system.
Will these senior resident-dwelling folks, no longer shopping and cooking, be spooning up gruel, listlessly aiming their forks at little grey messes, including freezer-burnt codfish, boiled beef and carrots? Not anymore!
These days, a major selling point for many seniors’ residences is quality of life as experienced through quality of cooking.
“About 40 per cent of our residents come here because of [Chef] Markus, his reputation,” says Seona Stephan from Victoria’s Carlton House of Oak Bay, a seniors’ residence.
Markus Hediger is Carlton House’s executive chef, who oversees and prepares the meals at this admittedly upscale residence, in both clientele and locale. It is typical, however, in its emphasis on a very high standard in its kitchens.
Meals for residents include such dishes as parsnip and honey soup, escargot in mushroom caps, pan-seared scallops, turkey-asparagus crepes, and chocolate lava cake. Old standards like Caesar salad and surf-and-turf appear regularly, and theme dinners underline seasonal holidays.
Trained in Basel, Switzerland, Markus previously operated The Coachman restaurant in Campbell River, followed by stints at popular Victoria restaurants. The major difference he finds in cooking for seniors is economics: his customers at Carlton House, while delighted to have the sort of meal expected in a fine restaurant, are contented with smaller portions, a three-ounce cut of chicken or beef, perhaps. He can often provide these seniors with fresher and finer fare than he was able to access at restaurants.
With quality a chief concern, Markus is delighted to use local seafood, wild B.C. salmon and Alberta beef, whereas in the commercial restaurants he often had to make do with frozen meat from Australia or Argentina.
In commercial restaurants, with their shortcuts and economies due to the vagaries of daily business and uncertain food fashions, what a person learns, he chuckles, is “how not to do it.”
For his senior clientele, he can also cook old favourites from scratch. “I’m using the *Five Roses Cookbook*!” he exults.
Chef Catherine Cress came to Nanaimo Seniors Village after working for the Zanetti food company, suppliers to Costco and other retail outlets. The challenge in her new job is to combine restaurant style and scale of operations with home cooking. She particularly enjoys the contact with her clients at Nanaimo Seniors, the chance to mingle with diners and get their responses to her menus and cooking. “It’s relational, cooking here,” she smiles. “I get to know the folks. And you have to listen to your customers.”
A glance at menus for Nanaimo Seniors Village confirms that those folks demand old favourites or standbys like English bangers with onion gravy, or Salisbury steak, and also desire newer adventures, such as salmon mousse with crostini, and candy cane beets. Chefs must run backward and forward at the same time for today’s senior clientele. Seniors like good old shepherd’s pie, but they are also ready for Moroccan lamb stew with spices and herbs unknown to their mums.
Seniors residence Shannon Oaks in Vancouver is taking an extraordinary, if quite logical step in fostering and promoting interest in its meals. Following a visit and demonstration cooking by Michael Smith, a noted chef with international experience and expertise, Shannon Oaks is instituting cooking classes for its residents. To be sure, they eat in the dining room at the residence, but they have kitchens in their apartments, hence meals to prepare. Residents who have not enjoyed cooking in their later years can now, thanks to leadership and inspiration from Michael and from resident chefs, get back in touch with it. “Cooking and the love of food are ageless,” says manager Ron Abbot. “Dining is a daily highlight here.”
As Adele Davis has written, “We are indeed much more than what we eat, but what we eat can help us to be much more than what we are.” And, even as people age, they can expand their horizons.
FEBRUARY 2011 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER ISLAND
FEBRUARY 2011 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER & LOWER MAINLAND