The Puree with Purpose Challenge is an annual nationwide competition of Unidine chefs from all backgrounds first created to provide competitive training for the chefs to be able to execute textured meals on the highest level. From that it developed into a curation of creative and innovative new recipes that brings out and incents the company’s culinary talent to create appealing dishes designed to meet the needs of customers in senior dining facilities experiencing chewing and swallowing difficulties.
In the US, 23% of adults over the age of 50 report having chewing or swallowing issues that may be caused by stroke, cancers, reflux, Parkinson’s or other neurological diseases, making them a high risk population for aspiration, pneumonia, malnutrition and dehydration. Unidine, a major player in senior living foodservice, originally developed and implemented Puree With a Purpose back in 2001, when it was founded, and has been using it to empower guests with dysphagia to dine with dignity by enjoying meals with the same great flavor, aromas and appearance as their peers. The texture-modified meals are visually highly appealing as they are molded and shaped to resemble the meal’s non-textured appearance while also providing complex flavor and aroma profiles and nutrients that fight cognitive decline.
Photo credit: Unidine
Photo: Seared walleye aalmon with haricot vert over Israeli couscous with fennel oil and garlic smoked paprika oil.
To ensure that the most advanced textured food program is executed on the highest level, Unidine hosts an annual internal championship, the Puree with Purpose Challenge that invites its chefs from all over the country to compete for the title of Puree with Purpose Champion.
To enter the competition, each chef has to submit a recipe and photo of the pureed masterpiece they created by them, with only the best in each region making it to the finals, a live cook-off in the Unidine Culinary Innovation Center in Boston, where the regional champions have to compete in front of jurors for the title. The jurors include Unidine Founder/CEO Richard Schenkel and Chief Culinary Officer Randy Emert alongside other executive leadership members. The winner gets a trophy, a Puree with Purpose championship belt and prize. They also get to keep the insignia for a year before it is challenged again.
Photo credit: Unidine
Photo: Textured coconut and rice panna cotta with sour cream, arème Anglaise, blueberry and raspberry puree.
Each year, the Puree with Purpose Challenge draws Unidine culinarians from diverse backgrounds and experience levels, from line cooks in small retirement communities to executive chefs in major senior living systems—and the winner is quite often a newcomer showing off their creativity and skills.
Chewing and swallowing difficulties—along with the need to eat textured dishes that are different from the fare other diners get—often discourage seniors with dysphagia from eating properly and getting the necessary amount of nutrients. In addition, with texture-modified foods, the various sensations are reduced to a single texture making the separation of flavors and visual appeal of foods even more important to ensure a pleasurable dining experience.
To compensate, Unidine chefs are trained to mechanically alter prepared foods from the day’s regular diet menu to retain nutrients, flavor and color, and Puree with Purpose training is conducted in its communities across the country by its top Executive Chefs. Every one of the company’s communities serving textured foods has at least one chef onsite at all times who has gone through the hands-on Puree with Purpose training program, which is mandatory for executive chefs serving senior living communities, though it is also open for any company chef interested in expanding their skill set.