Joe Geiser, VP of Dining Services speaks about culinary programs and how they can make a difference in senior living.
Joe Geiser Solvere Living’s VP of Dining Services, has an extensive background in food service management in the senior living industry, as well as corporate and non-profit organizations. He oversees all aspects of culinary services for Solvere Living. Joe started his 40+ year career as a lead cook for a full-service restaurant and worked his way up the culinary career ladder. He has opened over 30 kitchens between the restaurant and senior living industries.
We asked Joe about culinary programs and how they can make a difference in senior living.
Where does it all start?
It all starts with the director of dining services and the hiring process. If we don’t get the right person, we’re not starting on the right foot. I’m involved with the hiring process, along with the general manager and Regional V.P. We review resumes, look at many factors, including senior living or healthcare experience. However, the most important is the person’s cooking skills.
We have a set of interview questions, but my favorite is the market basket question. I’ll give the candidate a market basket with six food items and ask what they can prepare. I can tell by their answers if they have the skills and imagination to be a great chef. In addition, we look for chefs that have strong leadership skills, with the ability to manage a department from sanitation, finances, food quality to preparation and presentation. This person will have full responsibility for the operation of their department.
What are the keys to healthy cuisine?
Our Dining Team prepares as many meals as possible from scratch, using the freshest fruits and vegetables. Processed foods are typically loaded with sodium and chemicals. By preparing food from scratch, we can control the ingredients and preparation.
One of my favorite phrases is eat the rainbow and it’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s the fruits and vegetables that have nice color that are good for any healthy diet. A few examples are strawberries, blueberries, banana, apples, oranges, peppers, celery, carrots, tomatoes, avocado and leafy greens. This is just a partial list, but we use all these fruits and vegetables on our menus. They are high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and help to control and lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Solvere chefs also use these food items with herbs and spices to enhance meals and avoid using salt.
What is your favorite rainbow recipe?
My favorite recipe is something my wife and I just started cooking and it’s called the stuffed pepper casserole. It’s all the ingredients from a stuffed pepper, except they are all cut up. The ingredients are all mixed together, the rice, we use multi-colored peppers to give it a nice look. We use ground beef that is lower in fat, it’s delicious and everyone loves it. It’s like you’re eating a stuffed pepper, without having to go through the trouble of stuffing, blanching and cooking them. It’s easier to make and it’s a very healthy meal.
How do you structure your menus?
Our communities run on a five-week cycle menu where the selections change every day for five weeks and then the cycle repeats. Our menus are approved by independent registered dieticians and they meet all state and local guidelines. We also accommodate for local and seasonal cuisine like in South Florida, Texas, Georgia, Northeast, California and the Midwest.
How does resident feedback influence the cuisine?
When someone first moves to our community the director of dining services will spend time with the resident to understand their food preferences, such as how they like their food cooked, any allergies, types of diets and favorite foods. The dining services team will do everything possible to accommodate the resident with their food preferences and is always available for feedback. It could be as simple as putting vegetables on the back stove a little longer for a resident who prefers their vegetables with a softer texture.
The Resident Food Committee gives feedback on food preparation and selections available on the menu. Our menu content is driven by resident feedback. We do cooking demonstrations during Solvere Travel Times and we tend to use residents’ recipes. The director of dining services also walks the dining room and “touches tables” when the main meals are served. It’s important to get that immediate feedback so we can continually improve our menu selections.
Are there benefits to dining in a group setting?
Yes, social engagement, which is important as we get older. Residents have an opportunity three times a day to sit and talk with each other, learn about each other and meet new people. Our resident ambassadors welcome the new folks, show them how things work and introduces them to other residents. If we’re performing a chef’s table in the dining room, that’s another way for residents to engage with each other