LAKEWOOD, Colo.—When the American Culinary Federation recognized Michael DeGiovanni, executive chef for MorningStar Senior Living, it was an acknowledgement of the service-oriented approach he has brought to the company’s four facilities. MorningStar Senior Living at Applewood, the newest MorningStar location, was one of eight foodservice operations honored with an Award of Excellence from the ACF.
“We were nominated by the Colorado Chef’s Association, where I am a former president,” DeGiovanni said. “I liked that that award looked at the overall facility, the chef and the establishment.”
MorningStar at Applewood is a 107-apartment assisted living facility that features studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments, as well as a library, activities room, chapel, theater and massage therapy room. Katie Yoho, regional sales and marketing director, said the food is always part of her sales pitch.
“I like to say we are the Ritz Carlton of assisted living facilities,” Yoho said. “The food is a big part of that. I mean, three times a day, every day the residents are eating in the same restaurant. That’s tough for any establishment. Mike does such a great job of making sure that the menu changes seasonally so they have lots of good options that are based on the seasons and what they are used to at home. It’s amazing to see his dedication to serving the residents.”
Local and scratch-made meals: What makes the difference at this facility, DeGiovanni said, is that the culinary team makes almost everything from scratch.
“We try to use as much fresh product as we can,” DeGiovanni said. “We run a six-week menu that rotates twice for each season. We make our own stocks, soups, breads and desserts. I bring in fresh herbs from friends’ gardens as much as I can. The residents prefer to eat their bigger meal during the lunch period. They tend not to eat as much at night. We offer two entrée choices every day, as well as an alternative menu that they can choose from. We do a lot of work with Colorado Proud, which is the Department of Agriculture’s division that promotes Colorado products. Quality is very important to us—all our beef is Angus beef, and our seafood comes in fresh. It’s more expensive, but it’s worth it for us.”
Yoho said the community spends a little more money on food so the residents get a higher quality of menu items. The menu features entrées such as Yankee pot roast, beer-braised chicken and stir-fried beef and snap peas over sesame noodles. There is also a country store where residents can buy snacks such as popcorn for consumption in their rooms. Residents can get tray service delivered to their rooms, though Yoho said that is not ideal.
“We try to discourage that because it is important for the residents to be out with the group,” Yoho said. “MorningStar is really a service-oriented community. Residents do get to go out to restaurants and have picnics and stuff like that. There is also a bistro area where residents have access to coffee, iced tea, water, lemonade and other snacks. Mike also prepares happy hours for them with little hors d’oeuvres. Dinner starts at 4:30 p.m. and goes until 6 p.m., lunch is 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. They can sit wherever they want. We also have a private dining room that is available for residents and their families if they want to use it for a special dinner or birthday party.”
Apprenticeships: Another initiative that speaks to the culinary-driven program is DeGiovanni’s participation in the Colorado Chef’s Association’s apprenticeship program.
“I have two apprentices in the Applewood kitchen right now and it’s basically on-
the-job training for them,” DeGiovanni said. “The apprentices go to school one day a week for five hours and the rest of their training is on the job. This is a great environment for them because we make everything from scratch. We have one chef’s choice day on the menu every week, and I leave that up to the apprentice to decide what to make. They are in charge of ordering the food, costing it out, etc. For example, tonight was a chef’s choice, and the apprentice chose to make a grilled hot corned beef sandwich with Swiss cheese and onion rings.”
Food council: DeGiovanni also uses a monthly food council to gain feedback from residents.
“Food councils are pretty common, but it’s a good thing,” DeGiovanni said. “You tend to have a core group of people that will come each month. We have some pretty vocal ones that will show up. For the most part they are pretty fair either way. They’ll tell you what they hate, and we do have people who will show up and say what they like. It can be a tough crowd, in a sense that you are never going to make meatloaf like their wife or mother did. It can be hard sometimes. The whole goal is to put enough variety on the menu so they’ll find something that they’ll eat and hopefully like. We always ask if they have suggestions and we have most of them covered. It used to be [LTC operations] only offered a lot of comfort foods, but this age group is pretty well traveled so they’ve experienced a lot of different ethnic foods. They are pretty receptive to new ideas.”
Yoho said she has been impressed with how DeGiovanni handles the food council.
“He definitely listens to the things they say,” Yoho said. “He will take family recipes that the residents just can’t make anymore and make them for the entire community. Those kinds of things really show how much he cares.”
DeGiovanni added that he’ll even succumb to requests when they aren’t his favorite items.
“I hate to say this, but for the first time ever, only because it was requested, we are going to have liver and onions on the menu,” DeGiovanni said. “It’s not what I would want, but with this age group, I bet at least half of them will order it.”