“New seniors”—a term used in the senior dining industry for today’s generation of more active, more discerning older folks—describes most of the guests served at Menno Haven’s cafes and restaurants. Residents of independent living cottages choose from an eclectic menu that regularly features dishes like miso-marinated black cod over forbidden rice, Moroccan lamb meatballs and poached pears with gorgonzola.
Bryan Lucas, executive chef at Menno Haven, started working with Cura Hospitality and Elior Group of North America, Cura’s parent company, almost 20 years ago, and has been at this location for about a year now. As 2019 begins, he shares his areas of focus and goals that could inspire anyone planning for a fresh culinary start.
Keep adding unabashedly healthy menu items
An encouraging experience with a harvest grain bowl last fall has strengthened Lucas’ resolve for getting more creative with plant-based items. “[The bowl] had two different kinds of quinoa—black and gold—with roasted butternut squash, beets, parsnips and turnips with a maple-tahini dressing,” he says. “I went into it thinking, ‘Well, it’s a little bit on the healthier side…we may sell one or two. But we sold 12 [during a lunch period]. For us, that’s really good.”
Embrace culinary technology in the back of the house
The purchase of a new “combi oven on steroids,” a smart oven that requires training for kitchen staff to unleash its multitasking potential, has Lucas and his team testing preloaded settings and “learning all of it,” he says. “It takes all the guesswork out, and we’ll be using it for more of the things we’re cooking.”
Tap into more Mediterranean cuisine
“The dishes I really enjoy making are anything from the Mediterranean: Greek or Italy or Southern France,” Lucas says. “I just really enjoy that cuisine. I think there’s many flavors and many components.” He also points out that the Mediterranean diet, with its healthy oils, seafood and whole grains, is widely touted as a path to longevity. While no longer on the patient-feeding side of healthcare dining, Lucas spent time in his career as a GM more focused on dietary needs. And his wife is a dietitian, so, “I’m very aware of nutrition,” he adds.
Step out of your comfort zone
As a chef, one thing Lucas has always hated is baking. The precision is a turnoff for him, although he’d like to add more house-baked breads and pastries into the menu mix. “There’s no ad-libbing,” he says. “If you miss anything, it can affect the product. But I found out that I’m not bad at it, although I hate it. I’d like to bake a little more and try to find some way to enjoy it!”
Get local in meaningful ways
The region of south central Pennsylvania where Menno Haven is located is rich with orchards, farms and artisans who make amazing goods. The kitchen already works with several local farms and college agriculture programs. “We’re surrounded by apple orchards, so we get those and make housemade apple crisp and pies and things like that.” Lucas is aiming to do much more with local food people and organizations, in particular reaching out to local chefs for collaborations and guest chef spots.
Keep the old favorites
Two items Lucas cannot take off the menu? “Crabcakes and filet mignon,” he says, pointing to the nature of senior diners—like other generations—to gravitate toward comfort foods and the familiar, as much as they enjoy adventurous foods now and then. “In all my years, I never saw my grandparents take sandwich stuff and put it in a tortilla,” Lucas says of understanding his guests’ palates. “We have to remember our audience and think, ‘Why are we pushing certain things just to push them?’ It’s south central Pennsylvania and it’s still about meat and potatoes.”