When Michael DeGiovanni began working at a senior living community about 17 years ago, he remembers being one of the few chefs in the segment.
“There were still quite a number of operations that were using dietary managers as the head of their kitchens. They weren’t using chefs. A lot of care staff was doing the service and a lot of the food was prepackaged heat-and-serve stuff,” he says, adding that there was only one other certified executive chef working in senior living in the whole state of Colorado.
Over the years, DeGiovanni, now the vice president of culinary operations for MorningStar Senior Living in Denver, says that prepackaged foods have been replaced by scratch cooking prepared by a certified chef. Residents are also now often served by dedicated waitstaff.
“That’s one of the biggest changes I’ve seen,” he says. “People have gotten away from just hiring anybody who could heat and serve something to actually hiring actual trained culinarians to make their foods.”
At MorningStar communities today, residents are served a seasonally rotating menu that makes the most of local and fresh produce. While residents still love their comfort foods, DeGiovanni says they’re more open than ever to trying different global cuisines. The chefs are also conscious about providing foods that fit different dietary restrictions, such as gluten-free and vegetarian, to accommodate both residents and their families who may be dining with them.
Inside the dining rooms at its memory care communities, technology has evolved over the years to allow residents to enjoy pureed versions of foods that still hold their shape.
“There’s a lot of new products out there now that will let you puree a food and then reshape it to look like the food it was originally, like a chicken breast or a pork chop,” DeGiovanni says.
Going forward, DeGiovanni expects the senior living segment to continue to become more tech-focused. At MorningStar, the dining team is planning to implement a wireless point of sale system in its assisted living communities that would allow waitstaff to submit orders to the kitchen via tablet. In the future, the kitchens will see updated equipment too, DeGiovanni says.
“[Technology, like combi ovens, saves a lot of time and labor.] If you can program a combi oven to heat something to an exact temperature because you have a probe, and it’s doing it through a combination of a moist and dry cooking method, you may not need as much labor in the kitchen watching over the food,” he says. “The senior living segment will probably see a lot more of this technology over the next few years coming into play.”