The Edgemere, the first Life Care senior living community in Dallas when it opened in 2001, has newly partnered with Chef Tre Wilcox for a mentorship program that began in January. The two-time James Beard Award nominee and “Top Chef” and “Iron Chef America” alum will take on an advisory role at Edgemere, where he will provide guidance and training to the community’s executive chef and culinary team, including steering the development of recipes, signature dishes, plating concepts and menus.
As part of the program, Wilcox and Edgemere Executive Chef Armando Can-Cen will jointly participate in resident town halls and food committee meetings to gather feedback and recommendations from residents and they will also host cooking demonstrations that will follow strict safety protocols when held in person or will be hosted virtually for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic. A number of Edgemere culinary team members are also expected to enroll at Wilcox’s Tre Wilcox Cooking Concepts cooking school in nearby Plano, Texas.
“In my 29-year career, I’ve developed a strong love for teaching,” says Wilcox, who will dedicate 40 hours each month to the Edgemere partnership. “The unique opportunity to provide mentorship at a senior living community piqued my interest, and I’m eager to see what the response will be from seniors. In my experience, people nowadays are more open to global foods and trying new things, so there’s great potential in what we can achieve from this partnership.”
“We are very excited to work with someone of Tre’s caliber to elevate our culinary efforts,” adds Can-Cen. “My team is looking forward to exploring innovative flavors and ideas not only within our kitchen but throughout our overall dining experience. Tre’s expertise and experience will be invaluable in ensuring we keep pace with the cutting edge of gastronomy and hospitality.”
The relationship between Edgemere and Wilcox began in the late summer and early fall of 2020 when “we identified a unique opportunity to enhance and elevate the culinary program at Edgemere,” recalls Tanner Thorp, regional director of culinary development at management company Thomas Cuisine, an FM Top 50 firm that is the dining service provider for Lifespace Communities, which operates Edgemere. “It became apparent that a mentorship/partnership program could have strong potential in a retirement community setting and Edgemere would be a fertile garden to pilot and grow such a program. As we were developing the scope of what such an initiative would look like, we were increasingly cognizant of avoiding a typical ‘guest chef’ or ‘celebrity chef’ program that comes in quickly and fades just as fast. What we really wanted was to partner with a local, highly regarded and established chef who had the culinary prowess to command respect, mentor, enact change and create enduring growth within our culinary team. After conversations with many local chefs, we found an incredible partner who shared our vision in Chef Tre Wilcox.”
Thorpe hopes the relationship is a long-term one that may even be extended beyond Edgemere once the partnership is fully established there. “We’d love to have Chef Wilcox lend his talents to other communities that are owned and operated by Lifespace Communities,” he says, suggesting that The Stayton at Museum Way in nearby Fort Worth “would be a great location to launch a similar program next.”
The advantages of the relationship for the dining program at Edgemere include not only enhancing the skill sets of the culinary team and “taking the dining experience to the next level,” but also “there’s also some clout that comes with having someone of his caliber working with us,” adds Edgemere Executive Director Bridgette Walshe. “As a Dallas area native, he’s well known locally.”
For Wilcox, the partnership means extending his brand, experience and skills into a new and welcoming market, Thorp observes.
“Despite his successes so far, Chef Wilcox still yearns to grow as culinary professional,” he says. “A senior living community presents a challenge that he simply hadn’t had the opportunity to take on until now. It’s a whole different beast when compared to the restaurant world. There are different taste preferences and health considerations that you must consider when cooking for seniors. And while the residents at Edgemere are well traveled, there’s the opportunity to expand their horizons beyond what they are accustomed to.”
The program starts with establishing a mentoring relationship with Can-Cen and the existing culinary team at Edgemere.
“Initially, there will be meetings with the dining department so Chef Wilcox can get a better understanding of our kitchen and the culture at Edgemere,” Walshe explains. “In the coming weeks and months, this relationship will expand to include recipe development, chef demonstrations, resident outreach and more.”
Plans call for Wilcox, below, to participate in town halls and food committee meetings at least once a month.
“He’ll also be a frequent presence in the dining room during mealtimes to interact with residents,” Walshe says. “The events will be an opportunity for residents to not only ask questions, but to give feedback and suggestions on menus and dining preferences. They’re the ones who get to enjoy our food, so it makes sense for them to have a voice as well. The partnership is truly a collaborative undertaking, and having residents involved will only ensure its success.”
The cooking demos are on hold as the Edgemere dining room is operating at limited capacity under current safety precautions, she explains. “That said, there are opportunities for Chef Wilcox to safely meet with small groups of residents as well as hold virtual meetings and demonstrations for larger groups,” Walshe adds.
In terms of recipe and menu development for the Edgemere culinary program, “the focus will largely be on adding new dishes to the current menu,” Thorpe says. “Of course, some menu items may get replaced and others may get updated as well. The new dishes will be a collaborative effort between Chef Wilcox and our team, and the changes will be enjoyed by residents in all levels of living.
Walshe says there is a sense of anticipation among residents about the prospect of having such a high-profile chef involved with the community.
“The dining experience at Edgemere has always been well received by residents, but this partnership will elevate it,” she observes. “Given Chef Wilcox’s standing throughout Dallas, many residents are excited to see what impact he will have on the kitchen and culinary offerings.”
Food, after all, is one of the highlights of a community’s lifestyle, and the addition of Wilcox promises to add to Edgemere’s attraction,” Walshe notes
“As cliché as it may be, the key to a person’s heart is through their stomach,” she says. “You can offer the best amenities and services possible, but the dining program is one of the pillars of any community. While there are some limitations to dining communally because of COVID-19, residents still expect a quality dining experience on a day-to-day basis. It’s something to look forward to during such an uncertain time and when dining out at restaurants poses risks, especially for older adults.”