In-house Food Tasting Livens Up More than the Menu

St. Cabrini Nursing Home creates excitement with an in-house food show

Cabrini of Westchester’s chef, John Hammer and
resident, Helen Kontak, enjoying the food show

Nursing homes are not typically known for their cutting-edge culinary offerings, but that may change if St. Cabrini Nursing Home in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. is any indication.

Using the concept of a commercial food show as a stepping off point, St. Cabrini Food & Nutrition Services DirectorJoseph Bisaccia and Chef Supervisor John Hammer (shown with resident Helen Kontak, enjoying the food show) transformed the nursing home’s multipurpose room into an on-site tasting exhibition for residents.

St. Cabrini’s main foods provider, Ace Endico Food Service Specialists, collaborated on the 10-vendor exhibition of tasting dishes, from beverages and breakfast items to entrees and desserts.

As a result of the food show, St. Cabrini has already ordered several new items, including Fire Roasted Southwestern Pollack, Island Grill Tilapia, Hormel Always Tender Pork Loins, Oatmeal Pancakes, Sweet Potato Patties, Collard Greens and Zucchini Sticks.

Wanted: greater variety: The idea for an in-house food show unfolded as Bisaccia and Hammer explored ways to meet the resident Food Committee’s appeal for greater variety.

“It was around food show time, so I thought, ‘why not hold one right here,’” explains Hammer, who came up with the concept.

The food-tasting event fits in neatly with the administration’s mandate to offer a more home-like environment, and give residents, staff and family the chance to make choices based on personal preferences and collaboration.

Hammer, a 30-year veteran of the hospitality industry, has fully embraced this philosophy, even referring to residents as guests. “And the guest is No. one,” he asserts.

Food show format: The day of the event the room was set up in a typical food show format, with tables for all the brokers lining the room’s perimeter. Logistics of preparing food products, along with heating, refrigeration and display options, were discussed with all the brokers prior to the show.

Of the nursing home’s 304 residents, 100 were asked to participate, based on their dietary restrictions and willingness to share opinions, and whether or not they were ambulatory.

 “Our intention was for the event to resemble a real food show, with vendors (brokers) setting up different displays,” explains Bisaccia. “We envisioned two shifts: from 11a.m. -12p.m. and a second shift from 12p.m.– 1p.m. The problem was, though, that residents didn’t want to leave! Most of our residents are in wheelchairs, they wanted to come in and get cozy and sit for a while. We didn’t have enough tables for all the participants.”

There was an “overwhelming positive response,” to the event, says Bisaccia. “We had a questionnaire that residents filled out, asking whether or not they liked what they had sampled,” he says. “They liked everything.”

In addition to the new menu items, the event yielded several other benefits. For residents, it was a self-esteem booster, allowing them to be more involved and make decisions on food choices at the nursing home. 

The experience was an eye-opener for the brokers.

“Usually, it is just the chef and I that attend food shows; this event gave the brokers an opportunity to see what type of clientele we are providing for on a daily basis,” says Bisaccia. “It gave the residents the opportunity to talk to the broker and the broker the opportunity to talk to the residents. Brokers were able to see the smiles on the residents’ faces. ”

The day's festivities opened up avenues that traditionally aren't a part of St. Cabrini's food-buying process.

“Most of the time we don’t deal directly with a broker, we go through a distributor,” says Bisaccia. “When the brokers can come into your house and see your operation, it creates a very different feeling.”

The brokers also worked and mingled with St. Cabrini’s kitchen staff, which still had to serve 1,000 meals that day. “There was a lot of hustle and bustle, a lot of back and forth. It was fun watching them work with our staff,” says Bisaccia. “It was a great atmosphere all around.”

Given the event’s success, residents are clamoring for more of the same, and St. Cabrini is considering making the food show an annual affair.

“While it is a very complex program to set up, the benefits to our residents make it all worthwhile,” notes Bisaccia. “We are also considering a scaled-down version, whereas we would invite a few food brokers in to do a taste-testing on new products with our residents on different occasions throughout the year.”

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

Hutchinson Middle School in Hutchinson, Minn., invited students to help serve lunch in an effort to encourage their peers to try new, healthy recipes, Hutchinson Leader reports.

The students, who are part of the school’s Students in Action Club, created posters to advertise the new meal and helped serve it to students during lunch.

The school’s kitchen manager, Janet Schmidt, said that around 37 more students than normal got in line to try the meal. The school plans to have students from the club help serve lunch once every month.

Read the full story via Hutchinson...

Industry News & Opinion

In an effort to trim costs, the country’s largest senior living company laid off 100 staff members, including regional dining services directors, reports Senior Housing News .

Not all employees who were laid off will technically leave the company, Senior Housing News notes, as some will be reassigned to alternative positions. Brookdale recently posted third-quarter earnings that fell short of analysts’ expectations and that the company’s CEO called disappointing.

At the end of last year, the Brentwood, Tenn.-based company employed 53,000 workers on a full-time basis, and...

Industry News & Opinion

After receiving mixed feedback from parents, Randolph County School District in Asheboro, N.C., is inviting parents to tour the district’s kitchens and cafeterias to see how the food for school meals is made, Fox 8 reports.

School officials say that the tours, part of the district’s first Food Day for Parents, will give parents an inside look at the upkeep of the facilities, as well as enable them to sample some food and see how the district is upholding USDA guidelines.

Officials also hope that the tours will provide them with more guidance on what parents and students are...

Industry News & Opinion

After fielding complaints from parents and students, Sodexo is launching an initiative to improve dining services at Emerson College in Boston, the Berkeley Beacon reports.

The initiative will kick off this month with an event dubbed Fresh Start, marking the start of several moves aimed at improving service—including the hiring of a new executive chef, the addition of a second sous chef, and retraining current staff on food preparation and presentation.

Members of the Emerson community will also be able to share feedback through the introduction of monthly forums, as well...

FSD Resources