Elior North America may have kicked off the SoGood! promotion, but the culinary team at Messiah Lifeways at Messiah Village took the ball and ran with it.
SoGood! Is a program that spotlights a single, typically seasonal, ingredient each month. Over the last year, that theme has included apples, autumn squash, pears, cranberries, citrus, dark chocolate, carrots, nuts, berries, stone fruit and tomatoes; corn is on the schedule for August. The idea is to educate residents and stress foods that are good for the planet and for health.
At Messiah Lifeways, a senior living complex in Mechanicsburg, Pa., that monthly promo has morphed into an LTO menu that challenges the culinary staff’s creativity. Instead of a dish or two incorporating the featured ingredient, executive chef/director of dining services Jason Clark and his team look for multiple ways to present it.
In July, for example, tomatoes morphed into fresh marinara and pizza sauce, sun-dried tomato scones and cookies and other items. Carrots wound up in carrot granola, coffee cake, whoopie pies, cupcakes, white chocolate carrot cake fudge and carrot oatmeal cookies. Nuts were served in banana bread, scones, baklava, cheesecake, cookies and in BBQ snacks. Beverages are also part of the mix—during tomato month, a virgin Bloody Mary turned up on the menu.
Clark and head baker Jennifer Staurh brainstorm recipes and variations on the theme before each month’s promotion and consider the many ways an ingredient can pop up on a menu.
“We’re really celebrating an ingredient,” Clark explains.
SoGood! Items are on prominent display at a table inside Café 100, an upscale fast casual-style restaurant at the facility. Many are packaged for takeout, and some are on the menu in dishes such as salads, beverages and sides. The LTO items get a boost from signage and social media posts that focus on the benefits of the month’s ingredient. During tomato month, for example, the table included a live tomato plant and a display of scratch-made sauces and other items along with tomato factoids.
“It’s in your face, and it screams ‘market fresh,’” Clark observes. He has taken inspiration from retailers like Williams-Sonoma, with its eye-catching entry displays that tend to draw customers into the store.
“It helps set the expectation for the experience,” he explains. “Customers might not be having the best day, but seeing these great items that are house made totally changes the perception of their day.”
As the primary focus is on sourcing locally, Clark works with local produce sources to provide some of the ingredients. Messiah Lifeways also recently partnered with Commonwealth Charter Academy in nearby Harrisburg to supply some products. The school’s AgWorks is an integrated lab where students learn how to grow foods using aquaponics, hydroponics and aeroponics. Eventually Clark hopes AgWorks students will supply some of the raw ingredients on the SoGood! schedule.
“It’s a collaboration,” he explains. “We trade their time for our time; we bring students in and show them what we are doing with the ingredients, such as how we break down a fish.”
Messiah Lifeways has taken SoGood! up a notch, says Kasey Marsicano, director of marketing for Cura Hospitality, the Elior division that handles foodservice for the property. “We love how it’s been elevated here,” she says. “What Messiah has been able to do is help Elior look at the program in a little different way. They have created great display tables and made the food engage better with the guests.”
As a result, Marsicano adds, “the team at Elior and other culinarians are looking at foods in ways that are more conducive to do things like display tables.” Messiah’s example has demonstrated the creative possibilities for featuring items like juices, snacks, entrees and sides.
About 70 Elior clients have access to the program, which they can adapt to their specific needs and the customers they serve. Down the road from Messiah Lifeways, for example, one facility has built a plant-forward menu around SoGood!, Marsicano says.
So far, dark chocolate month was the most popular, followed by nuts, berries and apples. While the thrust of the monthly promotions is wellness and sustainability, it’s not aggressively so. The table display includes “Delicious, seed to table” facts about nutritional benefits, how the product is grown and general trivia about the product. In the case of chocolate, the message was simple: “Dark chocolate is loaded with nutrients that can positively affect your health.”