Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald
On any given day at St. Anthony’s Gardens Senior Living in Covington, the kitchen staff operates as a restaurant offering a choice of five entree items, specials and an “always-available” menu (that includes salad, sandwiches and desserts).
Behind the effort trying to please 100 palettes are chef David Taylor and his crew.
“It’s balancing the menu, knowing we can give them good food,” Taylor said. “We cook for the needs of the community and listen to the residents and learn their likes and dislikes.”
Taylor and chef Kendal Kohler liken St. Anthony’s Gardens to having country club food amenities without golf or tennis. With Mississippi chef Falisha McDonald-Garnett, whom Taylor calls “preparer of Southern food extraordinaire” and serves as the baker, line, sandwich and salad cook, the trio has been at St. Anthony’s Gardens since its opening in December 2016.
“One of the things I hear from residents is they like the variety,” Taylor said. “They really want more of what they like, so we listen to that.”
Southern shrimp and grits, three-cheese tortellini salad, Eggplant Puttanesca (a red sauce with olives and capers over orzo), cream of mushroom soup, taco salad, chicken pot pie, spinach and crawfish salad with remoulade dressing and cornbread-stuffed fish topped with crawfish are just a few recent entrees. Fried chicken cooked to order is always a hit at St. Anthony’s Gardens as well.
Knowing that many residents have sodium and sugar restrictions, Taylor doesn’t add salt to offerings, although ingredients such as tomato sauce, bacon or olives contain salt.
“The first entree and side items on the lunch and dinner were created by a dietician,” he said. “If someone is on a diet restriction, I can tell them how many calories and what’s in it. … The calories are designed for senior needs.”
Fun food nights
In addition to daily cooking at St. Anthony’s Gardens – a senior living center operated by the Archdiocese of New Orleans – Friday and Saturday nights are popular. Taylor offers a seafood special and/or with gumbo on Saturday, and Friday nights are fried fish night. Taylor also hosts popular monthly food demonstrations on the assisted living side.
Monthly fine dining nights at St. Anthony’s Gardens add to the diversity. A January event harkened to old-line New Orleans’ Brennan’s restaurant serving prime rib with marchand de vin sauce, Chicken Clemenceau and Bananas Foster. Another celebrated the Chinese New Year.
“The fried chicken is great,” said resident Darlene Scheibner. “The salads are good, and it’s varied, so I don’t get tired of the menu.”
The separate dining needs of residents on the assisted living side and Memory Care units at St. Anthony’s Gardens are accommodated. Taylor, who has 10 years’ experience cooking for seniors, said he has “Heartfelt Connections” training for memory care and personal experience with family members touched by Alzheimer’s. A “food-on-the-go” menu developed for those who don’t like to sit in a dining room, brightly colored plates and a brain-food menu also help clients.
“The secret to memory care and food is meeting residents where they are in food tastes,” Taylor said. He initially consults a resident’s family upon arrival. As residents’ tastes regress with the progression of Alzheimer’s, sometimes to childhood food preferences, he adjusts. “It’s giving them their optimal space where they thrive.”
Pleasing residents is the goal. He responds to residents requesting a favorite recipe by placing that food on the menu within 10 days. He’ll even put their name on it. He joked that he had prepared a resident’s chicken salad recipe, and she was so proud “until someone said they liked the old chicken salad better,” and she requested her name be taken off.
St. Anthony’s Gardens hosts special events for businesses and nonprofits up to 100 people, and often hosts family events for residents.
A secret ingredient when cooking for seniors was learned when Taylor worked at a Florida senior living residence. When he cooked for Easter one year, he prepared the requested lamb, ham and salmon. As he walked through the dining room after serving, he noticed one resident crying while eating the lamb.
“I asked her what was wrong, and she said, ‘I was married for 65 years to the same man and he hated the smell of lamb, so I could never cook it. This lamb reminds me of my parents when we lived in a little cottage in England.’ It’s these types of memories we get to make … and you don’t always get that in the restaurant business.”
Christine Bordelon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.