By Greg Anderson
At senior living communities, a high-quality dining experience is not just an amenity for residents – it is a necessity.
A healthy diet, along with physical and mental stimulation, are key factors that promote an individual’s overall wellness. For seniors, mealtimes offer opportunities to socialize with friends, enhancing their overall quality of life.
Although Gulf Coast Village in Cape Coral has always offered delicious, nutritious dining, the Continuing Care Retirement Community intentionally elevated its dining program two years ago with the hiring of Chef Xavier Duclos, who received culinary training in Southern France and spent over three decades curating dining excellence at highly acclaimed restaurants, as culinary and dining experience director. Along with Executive Chef Dulce Bassett, the duo tapped into their five decades of combined experience in the restaurant, hospitality and culinary industries to create an exceptional dining program that checks three boxes:
- Healthy and nutritious
- Tastes good
- Offers a variety of options
Around the country, senior living communities are recognizing that a world-class culinary experience is just as important as deluxe accommodations, a robust activity schedule, compassionate team members and on-site medical staff. Gulf Coast Village has emerged as a model as communities nationwide raise the bar for senior dining.
An Upgraded Menu
Seniors have refined palates from decades of home cooking, dining out and traveling the world. They know what tastes good, and that’s what they want to eat.
Striving to elevate the dining experience at Gulf Coast Village, which serves more than 460 meals daily, Duclos and Bassett sought feedback from residents to develop new dining menus and recipes that appeal specifically to seniors.
“We listened to residents, their wants and needs, and came up with a variety of new options for them to enjoy,” said Duclos.
That included more recognizable foods such as pot roast, eggplant parmigiana and chicken alfredo. Soup was also a top request, so lentil soup, tomato basil soup and chili were added to the menu.
“These are staples that bring comfort and warm memories,” Duclos said. “What we’ve done as chefs is to use the freshest ingredients and to make everything from scratch to ensure healthier, delicious options. It takes a little bit more labor, but you get a much better product and much happier residents.”
Satisfaction is critically important because good meals draw residents out of their apartments and into the dining room, where they strike up conversations with neighbors from down the hall and different floors.
“We put a lot of hours and care into developing flavors, both new and traditional, that our residents will enjoy,” Bassett added. “We strive to make every dish taste like a home-cooked meal with an elevated feel.”
Gulf Coast Village’s menu includes farm-to-table salads, prime cuts of steaks, seasonal seafood options and mouthwatering desserts that patrons would expect at a Michelin-starred restaurant – not a retirement community.
Residents at Gulf Coast Village never ask to speak with the chef. That’s because the chefs routinely ask to speak with them.
The culinary team visits each table during mealtimes, asking residents directly for feedback on the items they ordered. The chefs also provide feedback cards and host “food forums” that allow residents to share their thoughts about the menu.
Duclos, Bassett and the culinary team aim to go above and beyond to satisfy residents’ requests.
“No is never an answer,” Duclos said. “I always try to see what I can do or say to appease the different needs and wants of our residents. When cooking for somebody else, you always want to make them happy.”
Additionally, Bassett hosts a monthly cooking class that provides opportunities for informal conversations about food and dining preferences.
To boost resident satisfaction, Gulf Coast Village serves traditional meals that residents will recognize, such as omelets and biscuits for breakfast, soups, sandwiches and burgers for lunch, and pot roast, homemade lasagna and meatloaf for dinner. New dishes are introduced as specials or at events, and if they receive good feedback, they are added onto the regular menu.
When creating new dishes, Bassett draws inspiration from social media to find modern takes on recognizable dishes. She then incorporates them into her own recipes.
It’s challenging to create menus and dishes that each resident will enjoy, but Bassett and Duclos’ team excels at it.
“A lot of it is trial and error,” said Bassett. “Our residents come from a generation of tradition, so we start there and tweak the dishes to be more innovative and modern. We also have lots of residents from different cultures, so we try to add diversity to the menu little by little.”
Relationships with residents, which start with those tableside chats, help personalize the dining experience.
“It’s important to us that the residents know that the chef here is their chef, not just a chef,” said Duclos. “Getting to know their likes and dislikes helps us make their dining experience even better, and it helps us get to know them a bit more with each meal.”
About the Author
Greg Anderson is the Executive Director at Gulf Coast Village inCape Coral, FL