When speaking with senior dining foodservice chefs, directors and managers during the pandemic, it was obvious they worried about residents missing out on the community-building aspects of dining together. Happily, the special events that keep senior dining chugging along in a positive way are making a comeback now.
To Morrison Living Director of Dining Services Mary Kate Pipolo of Peace Village Senior Living Community in Palos Park, Ill., the recent tapas dinner represented a full-scale return to the type of events that not only allow residents to socialize, but also for the dining team to show off its skills.
“We are very lucky with the culinary team that we have,” says Pipolo, who has worked at Peace Village for eight years. The action stations, themed events and pop-ups with Executive Chef Frank Desoto at the helm “have made the residents so happy. They really appreciate getting to know the kitchen staff who are preparing their meals all day. I’ve never seen such passionate front-line associates.”
Photo: “The highlight for the residents was the amount of food, variety and great taste,” Pipolo says. “All of the residents were very pleased and continued to talk about the dinner the next day.”
The servers at Peace Village all go through “mock server trainings” in which managers are the ones being served by new employees, who get real-time feedback. “This has helped tremendously as we’ve adapted and pivoted over the pandemic,” Pipolo says. “The residents adore our servers. They always comment that they’re like their grandkids.”
Such close relationships make gatherings like this all the more special to residents, who often keep talking about cool menus and writing thank you notes well into the next few days.
Photo: Small bites and small talk are enjoyed by seniors in equal measure at Peace Village.
The menu that became the “talk of the town” for this tapas event included sweet chili-glazed tiger shrimp with scallions, mini pork tostadas, calamari with cocktails sauce, bruschetta, cheesy potato croquettes, chili-lime poppyseed wings, marinated olives, lemon-pepper asparagus, honey sticky ribs, sourdough bread and more.
One of the standout tapas items was definitely pork belly coated with pancake batter and whiskey syrup, “basically a potato pancake with slow-roasted pork on top,” Pipolo says. “We make our own whiskey syrup, which is very sweet. The cooks layer the pancakes and pork and pour the whiskey syrup on top. We had done this for our St. Patrick’s Day social, and the residents enjoyed it, so we decided to do it again.”
Residents can look forward to more pop-ups and fun culinary themes in the coming months, including a summer carnival event. “These events keep our residents smiling,” Pipolo says.