Harry Parlee: Culinary Therapy

One of the ways Parlee has brought more dignity to dining for ARC residents is by making finger foods for residents who find it difficult to handle forks and spoons.

“Alzheimer’s patients get to the point where they can’t use flatware, because their hands shake,” he explains.

“But they can pick up solid things, so we make finger foods for them. For example, for dessert we make big sheets of cookies, and cut them into cookie sticks. If we have chicken pot pie we can take a little of the filling and wrap it in a pastry, like a pot pie chicken finger.” Parlee also has enhanced the quality of both pureed foods and the experience of eating them.

“We’ve done away with the lazy Susans, the plain scoops of globs of puree,” he says. “Here, we take away the trays; we don’t use bibs, we use scarves. We have music. When we serve honey mustard chicken sandwiches, we do a scoop of pureed chicken, hit it with a little of the veloute sauce, and top it with some honey mustard sauce. We try to bring some dignity to the dining experience.”

Aromatherapy also is an element of Parlee’s program.

“I take a roast in the morning and rub it with garlic and olive oil and fresh basil and thyme,” he explains. “Then I go down to the assisted living area at 2 p.m. and stick the roast in the oven so the residents can smell the roast cooking. Then we carve it in front of them and serve it. We have found that atmosphere and surroundings have a lot to do with residents’ appetites. They eat better when they see that people pay attention to them.”

Parlee notes that ARC residents can be very vocal about the food.“They’re unhappy and frustrated, they need to vent, so we get all sorts of criticism from residents,” he says. “And yet, if you talk to the family members, you learn that they actually go crazy over the food.”

Parlee is a person who tends to immerse himself in whatever he is doing, ever since he started working at the Sonesta Hotel in Hartford, Conn. Although he lacks a culinary degree, Parlee has spent his entire adult like learning and perfecting his skills. “I liked cooking and I found out that I had an aptitude for it,” he recalls. “I talked with some of the chefs I worked with, and they suggested that I come and learn from them. So I spent time with the butcher chef, learning to fabricate meats; I worked with the pastry chef, the sous chef; I learned it all.”

He worked in several hotels, restaurants and country clubs in Connecticut for nearly 20 years, before taking on the role of food and beverage director at The Gables at Farmington, an upscale retirement community in Farmington, Conn. He worked at The Gables from 1998 to 2000, when he became the foodservice director at The Ethel Walker School, an exclusive girl’s boarding school in Simsbury, Conn. He remained there until February 2006, when the job at ARC opened.

“I felt I needed to do something different, and I’ve been able to use my hotel and restaurant background here, as well as everything I did with The Ethel Walker School,” says Parlee. But he didn’t just rely on his past skills. He took the next step by joining the Dietary Managers Association and taking the six-hour test to become a certified dietary manager.

Parlee is sanguine about his job, despite the seemingly depressing nature of his surroundings.

“Basically, when somebody comes here this is their last residence,” he notes. “We lose anywhere from 25 to 30 residents a year. In spite of that, we go about our business every day, which is to put a smile on everyone’s face.”

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
business card

We get the new folks abridged business cards saying, “Hi, my name is so-and-so and I work in nutrition department.” We thought it would give them more ownership of the program and elevate their status and position in the organization. It also gives our team more self-confidence and self-worth as an employee, which can be a challenge with foodservice workers.

Ideas and Innovation
tug hospital robot

Automation has opened up in recent years as foodservice operators across the country grapple with labor shortages. Robots deliver food trays to patients in hospitals, and they make sushi on college campuses. For some operators, they’re worthwhile to reduce strain on human employees and increase productivity.

Robots roamed the hallways when the University of California San Francisco Medical Center’s new Mission Bay campus opened last year. Though these robots have nicknames like Wall-E and Tuggie McFresh, they’re not a novelty. They’re a solution to a problem that administrators...

Ideas and Innovation
sandwich sub

At our corporate operation in the Kohl’s headquarters, two kinds of sandwiches are available daily—an artisan version and a more straightforward sub. While planning out a business model for the space, Kohl’s wanted something that was quality driven, but very sensitive to pricing for associates. Diners are comfortable spending about $6 to $7 for lunch.

Ideas and Innovation
usc asian remodel

With a prime location in Los Angeles, one of the nation’s foodie capitols, the University of Southern California has plenty of dining competition. So when Kris Klinger, assistant vice president of retail operations, discovered that students were heading off campus for sushi and noodle bowls, he knew it was time to take action. The construction of Fertitta Hall, part of the university’s Marshall School of Business, provided the opportunity.

Klinger and Gary Marschall, associate director of USC auxiliary services in hospitality, shared photos of both the new Fertitta Cafe and a...

FSD Resources