FSD Senior Editor Pat Cobe recently spoke with Eric Goldberg, corporate executive chef for Cura Hospitality, a subsidiary of Elior North America focused on senior-living and acute-care facilities, to learn how his team has adapted during the pandemic and how it’s looking ahead. Here's an excerpt from their conversation.
Q: What are some of the innovative dining ideas you’ve come up with over the last 10 months—have you had to transition to a different kind of foodservice?
Yes, we have. Like all other restaurants that have been impacted by COVID and especially in our industry where we are catering to a vulnerable population, we had to make some adjustments. We created a safe cafe program, which established new best practices to respond to COVID and adjust our services to be safer for [guests, residents and team members]. …
We have increased our number of takeout options available to our residents and have also tried to infuse a high level of presentation within our takeout program. We don’t want to just put food in a box and close the lid. We want to still provide what is almost like an in-dining restaurant experience through a delivered item, so [put] a heavy influence on garnishing, on trying to prepare food so the integrity does not get compromised in transport. Sometimes, we put sauces on the side in a separate container; we try to separate some of the ingredients so they don’t comingle and you end up going from an entree to a stew by accident.
Photograph courtesy of Cura Hospitality
We’ve put a heavy influence on outdoor dining, of course with social distancing kept in mind. They’re typically themed meals—not always barbecues—but fun experiences outdoors, which I think has been a great experience not only for our residents and guests in respect to the dining side, but also a monotony breaker from the limited social life that they’ve had and their limited opportunities to be able to get out in the world.
Q: Now that a vaccination program is underway, are you reopening any dining rooms yet or is that still on hold?
That is on a case-by-case basis and it is determined by the actual community, so we follow the lead of the client. In some states, it’s been 25, 50%, and in other states and municipalities, it’s 0%. It really just depends on the level of infection locally and what they’re tracking in respect to the potential spread and risk factors.
Q: Do you think something like more outdoor dining events will carry over into this spring and summer?
Yes, I do. I think it’s built up a lot of momentum, and in some cases, a lot of our residents and guests were a little uncomfortable going outdoors on a humid or warm evening or even a little bit of a cooler day or evening.
I think they’ve adjusted and they’ve changed their perception of their level of discomfort so they can have that experience. So I firmly believe this will continue well after COVID had passed, and we’ll continue to make adjustments and provide a great experience, whether we bring out heat lamps to keep them warm or fans to keep them cool.
Responses have been edited and condensed for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview with Eric Goldberg on FSD’s Menu Feed podcast here.