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Senior-living chefs craft purees into gourmet dishes

Unidine hosts a national Puree with Purpose competition to raise the bar on this menu category.
chef ortega
Chef Juan Fernando Ortega of Lake Forest Place preps his entree for the competition. /Photo courtesy of Unidine Corp.-Lake Forest Place

Lake Forest Place, a senior-living community in Lake Forest, Ill., was the setting for five chefs to test their culinary chops in the national Puree with Purpose competition. Parent company Unidine Corp. hosted the East Headquarters semifinals, which would determine one of three finalists.

This culinary competition is a bit more challenging than most others in the chef community. Pureed food is designed for people who have trouble chewing or swallowing, and rarely gets elevated with gourmet touches.

The chef competitors were tasked to create artistically presented, high-quality food that would not only provide nutrition but would taste and look irresistible. The goal is to show how chefs can provide seniors with easy-to-consume, delicious dishes that look nearly identical to their non-pureed counterparts.  

Lake Forest Place Chef Juan Fernando Ortega rose to the challenge and was declared the winner. He prepared a flank steak roulade with sundried tomato and spinach accompanied by tarragon sweet potatoes and roasted beets. His dessert: a sous vide carrot cake with cream cheese icing and a piped carrot garnish.

chef ortega
Chef Ortega finishes off carrot cake with a rich cream cheese icing and piped carrot garnish. /Photo courtesy of Unidine Corp.-Lake Forest Place

I love using my creativity and passion to create these works of art to be enjoyed by the seniors who call our community home,” said Chef Ortega, who was also a semifinalist last year.

“This is a wonderful competition to showcase the talented culinary teams in senior-living communities,” said Stephanie Schelle, Unidine director of dining services and Lake Forest Place dining director. “These chefs are constantly changing and challenging the status quo of what a puree should look like. Thanks to them, our seniors are enjoying the dining experience more than ever before.” 

The Unidine team handled the judging for the annual competition. Ortega will now head to Boston for the finals.

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