Gone are the days when cafeterias and pre-plated dining made the cut in senior living. Now, in order to stay competitive, providers are incorporating five-star restaurants into their offerings. And that means staying on the cutting edge of all that is offered outside of the community walls.
But creating a true restaurant requires time and attention, not to mention some inspiration from an executive chef who “gets it.”
Enter: Chef Jackie Nabong, Hawaii native and veteran Roy’s restaurants chef, known nationwide for its Hawaiian and Asian fusion cuisine.
“Chef Jackie” brings those same influences to some of her creations at Oakmont Senior Living’s Capriana community in Brea, Calif. And while some residents have been skeptical at first, she says, the dining experience has become more than just about food.
While some communities are retrofitting the restaurant-style concept, Oakmont had the benefit of building its dining program from the ground up for the continuing care retirement community’s opening in March 2013. Oakmont Senior Living has developed more than 30 communities in the western United States and is family owned and operated.
The building includes several dining venues, including indoor and outdoor patio options as well as two kitchens: one traditional restaurant kitchen and the other a sweeping exhibition kitchen that not only serves as a food hub, but also an entertainment and programming portal.
Residents enjoy the food from a taste perspective, but they also engage with it as an activity, Nabong explains, in learning about new foods and styles of cooking.
“I have a strong fusion style of cooking,” Nabong says. “It’s not just one style such as French or Japanese. I like to incorporate all nationalities. It may sound weird in a menu description, but as I tell our residents, ‘Trust me.’”
New Takes on Old Staples
Capriana, located about 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles, benefits from a relatively long growing season including temperate winters and dry, desert summers.
Nabong’s menu includes daily selections from the on-site herb and vegetable gardens such as fresh lettuces, tomatoes, peppers and assorted herbs, often reserved for the special menu items.
Those specials, two entrees, one appetizer and assorted desserts each evening, are planned a day or two in advance, at which point the dining staff makes the menu available in the community’s on-site bistro.
Then begins the buzz about what’s for dinner, Nabong says.
“Residents may at first hold back when they see the descriptions — when I take something Japanese and marry it with something Italian,” Nabong says. “But I like giving them that option of actually searching out the items that are in the menu. Many residents pick up the menu in the bistro, and go home and Google words