‘Food brings people together’
● By Steven Hoffman
Ware Presbyterian Village in Oxford is setting a new standard for the quality of food being offered at a senior living facility.
During a recent weekday, the menu at the Ware Dining Pavilion included pork chops with gravy, a stuffed sole filled with spinach and cheese, mashed potatoes, and sugar-free pudding. The a la carte menu at The Bistro features specialty sandwiches, burgers, and build-your-own salads. Ware residents also enjoy everything from lobster tail to surf and turf to pizza on theme nights.
“There are three different menus that you can choose from so there’s always something that you’ll like,” explained Elaine Staunton, a resident at Ware. “I love the lamb. The fillet is always fantastic. There are so many good options.”
Pauline Keetley, the head of dining for Ware Presbyterian Village, said that the 65-member dining staff attempts to provide an experience that is comparable to a top restaurant, with unique and sophisticated dining options.
“Everything is cooked to order,” Keetley explained. She added that the menu incorporates gluten-free foods and farm-to-table offerings, and other modern food trends that residents are interested in.
“There is a huge push for healthy choices,” Keetley explained.
On a typical day, between 160 pavillion meals and 850 total meals are served at the facility, a significant increase from even five years ago because of the quality of the food being offered.
Each of the residents on the Ware campus has a meal program to meet his or her specific needs. For the 137 residents in the skilled care facility, the dining options comply with their dietary guidelines recommended by the professional staff. The 160 independent living and 58 personal care residents have a great deal of flexibility in their meal programs, and Ware officials work to make sure that their expectations are met.
The biggest addition to the Ware Dining Pavilion in the last year or so has been The Bistro, which is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. each weekday. Offering casual dining with plenty of lunchtime favorites, Keetley said that The Bistro attracts a host of regulars from the Oxford area, including teachers, police officers, and firefighters. The Bistro is a nice complement to the main dining hall.
Keetley noted that residents and guests have the option of selecting food items from across all three menus. She credited executive chef Kim Dilworth with keeping the menu options fresh and new.
Dilworth joined the staff at Ware eight years ago, and she said that she has seen tremendous changes in the dining options for residents.
The dining staff also plans and prepares events throughout the year that allow residents to experience different cuisines and cultures. There are international themed meals. Brunch is held one Sunday a month. The meals are often coordinated with activities that are being planned by residents. For instance, the staff planned a menu featuring several different carved meats during an evening when a magician was performing, making it a fun evening.
“We really try to help enhance the activities that are planned,” Keetley explained.
Staunton said that Keetley is very good at coming up with different theme nights.
“Pauline is very creative, and she likes these events because she gets to use her creativity,” she said. “The meals are never boring.”
Consequently, the Ware Dining Pavilion is a lively place, with friends regularly gathering together over meals.
Staunton is one of the residents who serves on Ware's Dining Committee, which meets regularly to offer feedback to the cooking staff. Ware officials are always relying on input from residents to guide them as they make decisions.
Not all the suggestions made by the committee will result in additions or subtractions to the menu, but there are many times when the staff does incorporate some of the changes that are recommended. For example, when the popular Reuben sandwich with corned beef brisket, swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing was taken off the menu, residents clamored to get it back. It was promptly returned to the menu.
“Pauline tries very hard to keep the residents happy,” Staunton explained. “We want the input. We have a lot of options here.”
The staff also makes an effort to educate residents on the nutritional benefits of different types of food and cooking methods as one way to keep them involved. Residents might also help prepare for some of the theme nights. On Valentine’s Day, for example, they helped decorate cupcakes. Residents also help maintain a community garden that includes herbs, peppers, greens, tomatoes and other produce that is used in meals by the cooking staff. The collaboration between the staff and the residents only deepens the feeling of home.
The food offerings are so good at the dining pavilion that residents frequently bring their guests there to eat. The Bistro is licensed to sell alcohol, the first Presbyterian senior living facility to do so, and happy hours take place twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Completing the overall dining experience at Ware is a waitstaff that is polite and knowledgeable.
“The waiters and waitresses are just wonderful,” Staunton explained, recalling that after she and her husband ate one meal in the dining pavilion they were then greeted by name each time after that.
“Kim has a great culinary staff that she has trained well,” Keetley explained. “This is not your typical dining program.”
Keetley said that by designing and running the dining pavilion like an upscale restaurant, Ware has managed to transform it into a focal point of the entire campus.
“We’re still expanding and as the community grows, our goal is to bring people together,” Keetley explained. “One of the best ways to do that is with food. Food brings people together.”