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Ask the Chef difficult questions: Part one.

Hello! so I thought it might be a good idea to do a question and answer segment of the blog. Obviously you aren't here so I took a few of the most common questions I get and decided to address them. I will be doing a couple of installments of this one so if you have a burning question, please let me know at .

  • Are our takeout containers recyclable?

Short answer: No.

Longer answer: Sometimes.

On the back of our current takeout boxes, there is a symbol called an RIC [Resin Identification Code]. It looks like a triangle made out of arrows with the number six in it. This number dictates what kind of plastic it is and what level of recycling it takes. Our current provider of recycling does not take number six, so the answer is "no".

So why do we use them? Well, first of all, our takeout program uses a massive amount of these containers, and the program is huge. Since accuracy of orders is what we hear most complaints about, they need to be clear to check the contents. They need to be readily available from our suppliers. Like I said, we use a lot and running out of containers is not something our residents want to hear. So why the confusion? Because technically, it can be recycled, and that is why they place those numbers there.

In 1970 the triangle symbol for recycling was created on Earth Day as part of a movement to recognize how much we are destroying the environment and to reduce the amount of permanent trash that enters our landfills and inevitably enters our habitat. It worked pretty well too. Recycling and reducing landfill waste became a big consumer concern in the 70's and 80's. Glass can be recycled again and again, most metals can be recycled or reused. Paper can be either recycled or composted (a great idea by the way). There was a big push to get rid of items that were petroleum-based like plastic and styrofoam, since they were largely not recyclable and did not break down over time.

Even plastics that can be recycled can usually only do so once and it is more expensive than simply making new plastic, as it is simply a byproduct of the oil industry. What was the plastics industry to do? Well, in what may be the greatest public relations stunt of all time the industry co-opted the recycle symbol created on Earth day and made it their own. Since plastic was now "recyclable" it was ok to use it. The burden was now on the consumer to know and understand the system, which of course they don't.

OK. I'm off my soap box. What can we do? Well, really it comes back to you, the resident. No one can have their cake and recycle it too. If we were to reduce the offerings on takeout, if the menu were simplified and if people could be more flexible in their ordering we could definitely reduce the amount of plastics and maybe even switch to compostable packaging-a project I heartily support. If this is something that interests you, please contact your Food Committee representative.

  • Why can't we take food home from the dining room?

Man, we really are getting right into the fun questions aren't we? Ok, here goes: The meal program here is very different from a restaurant or club, where the price of an item is listed on the menu and you are presented with a bill. The food, the chef, the dining program is an amenity. An amenity is something you get that is part of the fees you pay but not a specific transaction. The budget for food here is based on three things; the number of residents in the building, the number of days in the year and the PRD food cost. PRD refers to Per Resident Day. So for example, if there are 100 residents, there are thirty days in the month and my PRD budget is five dollars, then the food budget for that month is $15,000 no matter how many people have lunch versus dinner, no matter whether they order the tuna salad or the lobster, no matter if the cost of food skyrockets. That's it.

The balancing act that I do every month is to try to make that money go as far as it can. Our menu is different than other Senior Living resorts and even other Vi properties in that we do almost everything to order instead of in large batches-reducing waste significantly. I balance the menus between inexpensive items like chicken or pasta, with higher-priced items like filet mignon or lamb.

We offer the largest menu for a single venue in our company:

At dinner we have eleven entrees-- each with their own tailored sides. That is in addition to six appetizers, two soups, and six desserts. We provide one full meal for residents per meal credit, as much as you want. What we don't provide is lunch the next day made from leftovers or late night snacks in the form of cookies pilfered from the dining room. We just can't. It gets out of control so fast you can't even imagine. If waste is a concern, please order half portions, that helps all of us. If trying to turn one meal into several is a concern, please keep in mind that we are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner six days a week, and that this you can come in anytime. Please don't undermine the rules of our dining program, and consequently put our staff in danger of termination by asking them to break the rules for you.

  • Why is the chef so handsome? What?? How did this get in there? Oh this is embarrassing, please stop, you're making me blush.

  • Why do we do all these projects outside the kitchen? Yeah, why does the chef, in addition to his full-time job running a very large part of the building, add on to his duties by writing this blog, or making a garden, or beehives, or wine tastings? Doesn't he have enough on his plate? The short answer is that I like my job. A lot. After a while, you realize that you could be doing more. Sure we have great food. So does the competition. Good food used to be enough, it isn't anymore. What can we do that is better? What do we offer that no-one else does? I guarantee that no one else in Colorado is making beer or keeping bees in Senior Living but I expect that to change before long. Taking on new projects has reinvigorated our creativity in the kitchen and has been (for the most part) embraced by our residents. It keeps me out of trouble (mostly) and gives us both bragging rights and marketable features to keep revenue flowing. Bottom line; I don't need to do any of this. No one asked me to, but I enjoy it and as long as you do too, we will keep it up. I'm planning some new projects in 2023 so stay tuned.

Duck Confit
  • Can I adjust the menu? Yes. By all means. As long as it is something simple, and we are not creating a new dish for every person-- then, yes. Substituting items is fine as long as the substitutions are something on the menu. If you don't like carrots but there are mushrooms on the menu then yes. If you want raspberries when they are not being offered anywhere on the menu then no. Half portions are fine, as long as it is something that can be split, (Osso Bucco for example is hard to split and still make a nice presentation). Many items can be made gluten-free by omitting a side dish, but of course I can't remove the roux from a gumbo. Certain items can be made without sauce, or cooked in olive oil instead of butter. I can cook your green beans more if that is what you prefer, but I can't cook them less. I can omit the salt from your grilled swordfish, but I can't take it out of the mashed potatoes. If you have a preference, please ask your server. If they don't know, ask them to see the chef on duty, one of us is always here.

  • Who makes the menus and recipes? Well usually it is either me or Jesus -the Executive Sous Chef. We have worked together for at least ten years, and so we know each other pretty well, and can usually collaborate easily. Sometimes I'm not feeling particularly creative, so he will write menus. Sometimes, we split-he will do IL and I will do Care Center. The recipes are our own. And, as for the cooks, I firmly believe in the power of creativity and that any chef worth his salt can create great food without a recipe.

  • Who makes the wine list? That would be Bob and Lora. Basically, Bob's department does dining and beverage, while my department does food. We do of course cross over and cooperate as much as we can, I love wine-I am currently working on my Sommelier Certification, and Bob is a Chef with at least as much as experience and talent as me. Lora's enthusiasm and expertise in her role has been very evident to me since she was promoted, and I look forward to seeing what new ideas and challenges she will bring. Ultimately, if you have a question about food or wine, speak to any of us.

Surprise kitchen photo
  • How many people work in the kitchen? My department has 27 positions in it. This includes cooks, chefs and dishwashers. Of course we are rarely fully-staffed but we get by. At any given time there are between three and ten people working, and of course the Care Center has another two or three per shift. My crew comes from all over the world, including: Burma, Thailand, Mexico, Africa. And, of course, many hail from the U.S., originally.

In any given day you can hear English, Spanish, Karin, Burmese, or French depending on who is working or what conversations are occurring. The crew all bring their own talents and cuisines, one of my favorite times is when the cooks will take the scraps of beef, pork or chicken that they are butchering and create a dish for themselves-- some of the best food I have ever eaten is from these staff meals, and these moments can spark some creative inspiration for us all to enjoy.

OK, that's it for today. I had fun writing this, if you enjoyed it please let me know. If you want to know more about the kitchen and how it runs, please consider attending a tour as organized by Lifestyles. As always, come see me at the Culinary Corner meeting on Mondays at 10, or ask a member of the Food Committee to raise a question or concern.

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1 Comment

Chef. You are one of many many many chefs. Thank you for your service and great humor. And yes, you are handsome !!

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