Patrick Young, center, director of culinary and nutritional services at Swan Creek Retirement Village in South Toledo.
Third time’s the charm, they say. And for chefs Patrick Young and Stacy Chesney of Swan Creek Retirement Village, that certainly held true.
The chefs had applied to participate in the prestigious Association for Healthcare Foodservice Culinary Competition three different times, but were only invited to the national cook-off this year.
Mr. Young, director of culinary and nutritional services at Swan Creek, said that this was the “first time a senior living community has made it as a finalist.”
Other competitors in the event, which was held in Salt Lake City on June 3, represented Wexner Medical Center in Columbus; the Cuyuna Regional Medical Center and Heartwood Senior Living Community in Crosby, Minn.; Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas; and Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia.
“These were big places from all over the United States,” Mr. Young said. “I hadn’t realized it was so big until I got there.”
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Mr. Young and Ms. Chesney, Swan Creek’s chief production manager and pastry chef, would certainly have been entitled to be nervous, with only 75 minutes to prepare, plate, and present their dish. They could have just been grateful for the opportunity to compete, ultimately using that as a learning experience for future endeavors.
But the Toledo chefs were ready for the challenge. They came, they cooked, they conquered.
They won the gold medal.
Gold-medal winning dish: Pan Smoked Duck Breast with German Potato Spaetzle Salad and Wilted Swiss Chard.
Their winning dish was Pan Smoked Duck Breast with German Potato Spaetzle Salad and Wilted Swiss Chard: fork-tender duck served with small potato dumplings that had been dressed in a tart bacon vinaigrette, served alongside bright greens.
But this isn't the first time the pair has won awards for cooking. Swan Creek's parent company, Ohio Presbyterian Retirement Services (OPRS), regularly holds culinary competitions among its 12 statewide facilities. Mr. Young and Ms. Chesney are repeat winners.
Last month, at a combined celebration and demonstration of the gold medal-winning dish, Mr. Young and Ms. Chesney served the duck to Swan Creek residents along with two of their OPRS winners: smoked venison quesadillas drizzled with crema and paired with a corn salad, as well as salmon encased in a black sesame seed-encrusted wonton taco shell, with julienned vegetables dressed in a sesame-soy sauce.
The dishes served both in competition and at Swan Creek have all had to meet specific dietary standards and price points. But rather than being a hindrance, this has served as inspiration to Ms. Chesney and Mr. Young as they've coaxed flavor from foods without compromising health and without being unnecessarily extravagant.
The wonton taco shells, for example, are lower in fat than traditional ones, having been brushed with egg white and baked rather than fried in oil.
"We're trying to change long-term care not only for the residents but for the kitchen," said Mr. Young. He and Ms. Chesney both greatly appreciate the ability to be creative in their efforts to meet residents' nutritional needs, without having to rely upon a standard -- and boring -- menu.
Although comfort food classics like meatloaf and spaghetti are still offered, there's no reason that seniors at the retirement home can't eat delicious, innovative meals while being health conscious.
It's important, said Mr. Young, "to still respect eaters" even as dietary changes may need to be incorporated.
Resident Don Lieder said, "This chef spoils us." His wife, Ann, agreed. Ms. Chesney and Mr. Young "are masters with food," she said.
"The dining room is like a restaurant," said resident Chuck Williams, chair of the dining committee that consults with the chefs with regard to dietary planning. "The quality will match up to the best restaurants in town."
Swan Creek's menu options are updated every two weeks, and can include such dishes as a fajita salad with seasoned beef strips and roasted corn; beef tips in a Jack Daniels sauce; mussels in white wine, garlic, and lemon juice; and pork shanks with sauerkraut and roasted apples.
"It was a real mental struggle to move" to a retirement facility, said Mrs. Lieder, though it was necessary for her and her husband to do so because of health and mobility concerns. But now "we're glad to be here," she said.
And one of the factors that has helped to ease the transition is the quality of the food prepared by Mr. Young and Ms. Chesney.
"We are so lucky" to have chefs at Swan Creek who are so creative and talented, said Jean Knudel. Mr. Williams agrees.
"We're a bunch of happy campers," he said.
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