Key Ingredient is Passion, at Aberdeen Retirement Residence

Dave Shakespear on "breathing love back in to food”

In the Comfort Life Spotlight

"The most indispensable ingredient of all good home cooking: love for those you are cooking for." 

 -  Sophia Loren

It’s a delicate balance. The chefs in our retirement homes have to respond to the tastes of many, cook their meals with love, display excellent customer service, and put out “home cooked meals” in an industrial kitchen. It’s not easy.

There is one ingredient that Greenwood has determined to be the most indispensable one for a chef to embody. For us it seems simple. They must have passion.

Dave Shakespear, Head Chef at Aberdeen Retirement Residence in Hamilton has a passion for food, a passion for life, and understands the value of connecting with people over food. He is a big believer in bringing back the “Sunday Night Dinner”, and for making meal times a time of joy and camaraderie. He takes his job very seriously, is constantly looking for feedback, and challenges the status quo of retirement home food. You can find him laughing his big hearty laugh in the dining room, where he makes sure that he interacts with the residents on a daily basis.

crab cake and chipsDave was born in England and has always been a lover of simple peasant style food. It’s relatable. “You have to treat the food with love and care, and coax out flavours”, he says. Inspired by old pub classics, Dave has introduced Welsh rarebit and Cornish Pasties to the menu with great success. He loves the challenge of “breathing love back in to food” that has been missing from our diets for too many years.

While pushing the envelope on the standard menu, Dave also keeps resident favorites and home style comfort food there to please even the most discerning palette. Southern Fried Chicken soaked in Buttermilk, Spaghetti and Meatballs made with veal, pork and beef, and the three cheese Mac 'N' Cheese are standing menu items.

The key, he says, is to offer choice. Recently, when making Creole Burgers for lunch (with fried okra, bayou mayo and bacon) residents could choose to have a burger topped in the classic way (tomato, lettuce, pickle) or to branch out and try this new flavor profile. The people who call Aberdeen Gardens home have really embraced this new menu. Crab cakes topped with a poached egg, Taco Tuesdays, and Italian Roadhouse burgers have all made the cut. Dave and the team at Aberdeen Gardens have had such an impact on food services there that they recently scored above the Ontario average in 6 out of 8 categories on their annual Resident Satisfaction Survey.

Dave feels lucky to be so connected in the local community of Hamilton, Ontario. He shares inspiration and ideas with chefs and artists and an ever-widening eclectic group who call downtown Hamilton home. He is always actively networking, learning, and trying new things along the way.

Due to this networking, Dave has built a great relationship with FWP, a local fresh produce wholesaler who sends a shipment of fresh local food to Aberdeen Gardens daily. Taking advantage of the bountiful Ontario harvest, Dave incorporates seasonal vegetables fully into his menu so that the residents are getting to eat the best of the best of what is in season. Asparagus, strawberries and corn on the cob all have relatively short seasons – so he does his best to capitalize and use them as much as he can. Let’s save the hearty root vegetable soups for the winter months!

Dave is bound and determined to diminish the stigma associated with retirement home food. He challenges the sector to think outside of traditional menu planning and engage more fully with the individual residents. “Seniors are more vibrant than anyone gives them credit for. They are interested in food, in learning, and in trying new things just as much as the rest of us,” he says.  One way that he has really brought his passion for food to life is with his monthly Food Matters Meetings.

During the Food Matters meeting, Dave presents a unique culinary topic. Each meeting has a theme, an educational component, and perhaps most importantly, a taste test! One month featured cured meats; prosciutto and melon kebabs, double smoked kielbasa with spicy mustard, German Salami. The following month saw an in-depth look at shellfish. A delicious shrimp cocktail was served, followed by a homemade lobster cake topped with caviar, and then oysters. There were many people in attendance who took the opportunity to shuck an oyster for the first time!

Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine couldn’t have been more on point when he said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” By combining a passion for local ingredients, wholesome natural cooking, and a vibrant engaging dining room together, Aberdeen Gardens ensures that food isn’t just medicine for the body but for the soul as well. 

- Jennifer Nicoll,  Greenwood Retirement Communities

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