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Homemade Hospitality

As an elementary school principal and teacher, Beverly White ate a lot of institutional fare in school cafeterias. When she moved to Abernethy Laurels, she hoped the food wouldn’t be the same.

Homemade Hospitality

Chef Frederic Pauthonnier, director of food services at Abernethy Laurels. Photography by Carol Anne Hartman. (Copyright by CHHSM. Used with permission.)

White hasn’t been disappointed. “It’s far, far above what I had expected,” she says. “In my time here, which is a little over a year, I have been particularly impressed with the menus.”

The United Church Homes and Services community and CHHSM member in Newton, North Carolina, is one of many across the country that are embracing a resident-centered approach to dining that includes more choices, fresher food and restaurant-style fare. United Church Homes and Services is driving the movement in innovative ways.

Chef Frederic Pauthonnier, director of food services at Abernethy Laurels, creates menus with a simple philosophy.

“Everything that we do is resident first,” he says. “And it works. It’s a simple approach, but we have to be able to give them what they want.”

Abernethy Laurels’ “farm-to-fork” program incorporates the freshest ingredients possible – food grown onsite with the help of residents. The idea flourished from a conversation with the community’s resident food council, he says.

Pauthonnier and his team bought the seeds: tomatoes, squash, zucchini and peppers, and herbs like Thai basil, mint, parsley, thyme, sage and rosemary. Residents took care of the rest, from building the wooden planters to planting and tending to the garden. The chef then works the harvest into the menu.

Since the community is located in the southern U.S., the experience especially resonates with residents, Pauthonnier says. Many have experience or memories or families who grew their own food.

Pauthonnier wows residents with innovative, fresh and personal menu items.

Most of the offerings at United Church Homes and Services communities stem from national menus furnished by its partner organization, Sodexo. However, Pauthonnier tailors the menus to suit regional appetites and creates dishes that touch residents’ special memories.

“There is a table often in our dining room who are all ex-military,” he says. “I do what’s called ‘SOS’ for them every month — beef on toast.”

He also prepares regular themed meals that incorporate cuisine from residents’ diverse backgrounds. For a Japanese-themed meal, the chef prepared soup, dumplings, and chicken and beef teriyaki, all with sake pairings. There were red bean pastries for dessert.

At United Church Homes and Services community Piedmont Crossing, dishes on the menu often hold special resident connections. The Thomasville, North Carolina, community’s “Recipes From Home” program offers versions of favorite recipes submitted by residents, such as peanut butter pie, for special meals.

Using a resident-centered approach to dining affects each community’s scope of food services. For example, residents of Abernethy Laurels in short-term rehab are provided room service-style dining with fresh ingredients through the “At Your Request” program.

Abernethy Laurels Executive Director Amber McIntosh says that Pauthonnier excels at meeting an array of needs within one of the most important areas of senior living.

“Obviously food is one of the most important things for a resident when they come to a campus like this, and you’re preparing food for so many people with so many diet restrictions,” she says. “Frederic and his team do a great job meeting the different needs.”

Those needs can range from low-sodium and low-fat, to gluten-free and vegan diets.

All in all, Pauthonnier and his team prepare almost 1,000 meals a day. Like any chef, he wants to be sure that his customers are happy.

“I come out to pour coffee in the morning and ask residents how everything is,” he says. “The residents all know they’re being heard. Their voice counts, and we pay attention to their needs.”