Chef competition puts institutional food in new light
BY CARRIE NAPOLEON Post-Tribune correspondent September 27, 2013 7:16PM
Jill Keilman, director of resident services at Hartsfield Village in Munster, spins fresh cotton candy for Russell Smiddy of Highland Thursday at Taste of Care Lake County. The candy-themed display took first place for best presentation. | Carrie Napoleon/For the Post-Tribune
People’s Choice Award: Gourmet Turtle Candy by Chef Suzette Ganz from Hartsfield Village in Munster
Appetizer: Walking Steak Pretzel by Chef Dwayne Bell from Spring Mill Health Campus in Merrillville
Entrée: Apple Amaretto Glazed Pork Tenderloin by Chef Patrick Mundt from Residences at Deer Creek in Schererville
Dessert: Chocolate Mouse Divine by Chef Terry Davis from Timberview Health and Rehab Center in Gary
Taste of Care Porter County, 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. June 12 at the Porter County Expo Center; proceeds benefit Porter County Triad
Updated: October 29, 2013 6:08AM
HOBART — Chefs in the elder care community had the opportunity Thursday to show off their culinary chops in a television chef-style showdown benefiting Honor Flight Chicago.
Dazzling dishes dispelled the negative perceptions of institutional food as the chefs aimed to wow the crowd, showing off items from their menus that are a far cry from gelatin and oatmeal and would excite foodies at any restaurant table.
Thirteen participants took part in the Taste of Care Lake County to battle it out in one of three categories: appetizer, entrée and dessert, vying for top honors in their class, best presentation and the coveted People’s Choice Award.
“We treat our menu like a restaurant menu,” said Chef Patrick Mundt from the Residences at Deer Creek in Schererville. Diners at the Residences have about 25 menu items to choose from during restaurant hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. as well as daily lunch and dinner specials.
Mundt’s Apple, Amaretto Glazed Pork Tenderloin, a pork tenderloin with sweet Amaretto sauce, apples and raisins over a bed of sweet potatoes, took top honors in the entrée category. It’s a dish he would serve as a special or for one of the Residences’ themed events for residents and their families. His sous chef, Vanessa Schiola, prepared a roasted butternut squash soup.
The pair, who come from a country club background, have worked together for 12 years.
“What we wanted to do was go to a senior living environment and serve gourmet food,” Mundt said. Many of the dishes have a sweet component, such as the maple glazed sweet potatoes served with his pork, because sweet is the last taste sensation to diminish.
Gary and Gina Bonk of Crown Point were tasting the pork. Gary Bonk is an attorney specializing in elder law and one of the event sponsors. He was surprised by the sophistication of the food items and the texture compared to the stereotype of food in an elder-care facility.
“It is really very good,” he said.
The chefs agree the biggest challenge in preparing menus suitable for their residents is meeting nutritional needs in a tasty way. Appetites typically decrease in seniors, so offering food they enjoy helps keep them eating and healthy.
Boun Kammalavong, chef at the Golden Living Center Fountain View in Portage, said his Hawaiian BBQ Chicken Kabob is a dish he would serve at the center for a special treat. Many menu items are foods residents request and with which they are familiar.
“This is not like hospital-setting food,” he said.
Coming up with a wide variety of menu options keeps everyone happy. He said the Taste of Care gives local chefs a chance to showcase their talent and show people the food at senior living facilities is not to be feared. Kammalovong said people should feel their loved ones are in a comfortable, safe environment being treated well.
“We make some wonderful, wonderful stuff,” he said.
Russell Smiddy of Highland was finishing off his evening with a trip around the desert tables. He watched as Jill Keilman, director of resident services at Hartsfield Village in Munster, turned a piece of hard candy into a puff of pink cotton candy on a stick.
“We hit every table,” said Smiddy, who came to the event with a friend. The food’s quality was surprising, he said.
“It’s not what I expected,” he said.
More than 1,200 attended the event, a record number, raising about $15,000 for Honor Flight Chicago. All the food was donated by participants. Leftovers were donated to a homeless shelter.
Ron Donahue from Prompt Ambulance Service in Merrillville, the event founder, said Taste of Care originally began as a way to showcase the culinary talents of the medical community. This is the first year Taste of Care has been used as a fundraiser.
“I think this is a wonderful way to show the talents of the cooks and chefs. All these people do a wonderful job,” said Karen Kus, social services director for Hartsfield Village in Munster. Kus, who was enjoying the food, said she her job gives her the opportunity to eat at Hartsfield every day and the food is always delicious.
Kris Woodke, director of food service for Meals on Wheels Indiana, said the agency feeds about 1,300 people Monday through Friday in Lake County, offering two entrée options a day.
Woodke’s dish was Chicken with Cherry Salsa, chicken on a bed of jasmine rice with cherry salsa. Meeting the many varying dietary requirements including therapeutic diets for diabetes, heart conditions and other health issues presents unique challenges is selecting menu items that can be universal and delicious so clients do eat.
“Knowing we are providing meals to seniors who possibly don’t have anything else to eat makes it more important,” Woodke said.