Cooking Up Culinary Inspiration in a Senior Living Community
Dennis Fisher gathers a handful of ripe heirloom tomatoes and bunches of freshly cut herbs from his Chef’s Garden. Chopped chives for potatoes, oregano for pasta, as well as parsley and dill are all slated for the evening’s menu. As the Executive Chef of Martins Run Senior Living Community in Media, Pa., Fisher embraces local ingredients, a philosophy of sustainability, and most importantly, inspired cuisine.
“Many of our residents are accomplished cooks and enjoyed tending their own gardens, so to have fresh summer tomatoes and homegrown herbs incorporated into their food, is a true taste of home,” says Fisher. Garden-savvy residents even started a new tradition this year — a Mother’s Day tomato plant sale, which raised funds for the Martins Run Garden Club. “Many of us even donated a few of our plants to the Chef’s Garden,” says Muriel Kornspan, one of the Club’s members.
For Fisher and the rest of the Martins Run dining team, crafting appealing cuisine for a wide variety of palates starts with offering plenty of choices. Between three unique dining venues, residents can choose from as many as 12 entrees every night. The recently opened Terrace Dining Room is a favorite among residents looking for non-kosher buffet-style dining in a casual, upbeat setting. On special evenings, a chef will take to the stage and lead residents through a cooking demonstration of a favorite seasonal recipe. Open for lunch and dinner, residents can choose from among three or four cook-to-order entrees each day, with dishes like shrimp kebobs, pork ribs and tilapia, as well as an extensive soup and salad bar and a dessert bar with an ice cream station. Ranging from vanilla to Moose Tracks, the flavorful selections of ice cream are always a refreshing delight on steamy summer days.
The recently opened Bistro is a high-energy café that is perfect for a quick bite and refreshing beverages on the go. The menu is continuously changing to accommodate a wide range of ready-to-eat and cook-to-order dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner, including larger plates such as the Asian-style salmon or lighter entrees like ziti with olives and feta. Sunday brunch is a favorite among residents, who like to splurge on Belgian waffles, a create-your-own omelet station or dine on classic favorites like a whitefish salad platter with bagels and cream cheese.
Another fixture at the Bistro? Chef Alex Cobb, who is often found stretching and tossing his own pizza dough, the base for his wildly popular gourmet pizzas. When the Bistro first opened, Cobb began experimenting with a variety of pizza recipes, using fresh organic herbs and vegetables from his home garden for the crust and toppings.
The Fireside Dining Room offers full-waited service in a refined and intimate atmosphere. Open for dinner, the menu features a long list of upscale traditional kosher fare as well as other creative options. The Fireside Dining Room often hosts up to three generations at a single table, as residents frequently invite their children and grandchildren to eat with them in this restaurant-style environment. A prominent yet charming fireplace and tables clad with starched white tablecloths exude a warm ambiance to accompany the sumptuous food served here. Whether you prefer the brisket, prime rib carved to order, or stuffed salmon, you’ll leave here with a satisfied stomach.
“The dining experience here is second to none,” enthuses Ruth Monheit. “There is such an impressive variety of dishes, ingredients and cooking styles, that it’s become our most anticipated time of day.” Monheit, a resident since 2004, has been a member of the Martins Run Food Committee for six years. She and several other residents meet with Dining Services management staff once a month to help guide menu changes and provide feedback. “We represent the ‘palates’ of all the residents,” Monheit says. “The Dining Services team is extremely receptive and does a great job responding quickly to accommodate our suggestions.”
So how does Martins Run accommodate so many different tastes and dietary constraints?
“That is the six million dollar question,” says Mike Swain, Director of Dining Services, who claims the biggest challenge is cooking food the way 250 residents’ mothers did. “We understand the importance of soliciting feedback from the residents, to take direction from them in respect to all facets of the Dining Services operation.” The staff is constantly collecting input on the menus, staffing patterns, hours of operation, ambiance, and other factors that affect the residents’ experience. “We are very visible before, during, and after mealtime to hear what they have to say.”
While Monheit’s favorite place to eat is in the Terrace Dining Room, she enjoys all of the dining venues. Harold Watts agrees. “I feel right at home and really have an enjoyable dining experience every time I sit down to eat.” More often than not, Watts, who considers himself a big breakfast guy, goes straight for the omelet station, filling the remainder of his plate with hash browns and a slice of banana bread baked fresh that morning.
For Floss Berkowitz, a resident since 2010, the best part of dining isn’t the food. It’s the camaraderie it offers. “In the Terrace Dining Room, we’re surrounded by a comfortable, laidback atmosphere that provides us with a great place to sit and talk with other folks, while enjoying first-class food,” she says.
In an effort to deserve that “first-class” endorsement, the dining team throws special-themed parties and other events. These include kosher deli nights, complete with all the traditional pickles aside corned beef on rye, upscale non-kosher birthday parties, and summer barbecues. The Martins Run Chef team regularly prepares ethnic dishes from around the world, from Italian and African Liberian to Asian and Mediterranean.
While guests are savoring the variety of cuisine at Martins Run, Laura Freeman, RD, LDN, is busy working behind the scenes, ensuring that meals are well balanced and nutritional needs are met. Freeman also provides one-on-one nutrition counseling for any resident in the community, and she teams with the chef to ensure seasonal and local produce are featured in all of the dining rooms.
According to Freeman, who has worked at several continuing care retirement communities in the Philadelphia area, Martins Run residents are very well educated and very in-tune with timely nutrition topics. “I love working with the residents to make positive changes in their health,” she says. “I believe quality of life is key as we age and how we eat greatly affects that. Incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as lean meats and whole grains, helps to create these positive changes. The chefs do an incredible job of making meals at Martins Run healthy, yet flavorful and enjoyable at the same time.”
Even this year’s Leadership Award Celebration at Martins Run focused on organic, locally grown food. During the dinner, several attendees asked who catered the event. It’s a question that is often asked at Martins Run affairs, yet Mike Swain believes it’s the ultimate compliment. He is always proud to answer with: “It’s our amazing team of chefs.”