Today’s Features: Pan-fried apple cranberry pork medallions served over a bed of Italian potato dumplings…Honey pecan crusted salmon served with unctuous chive buttermilk mashed potatoes.
Is this the menu of a 5-star restaurant? No, it’s standard fare in the dining rooms at Norris Square, a Presbyterian Homes & Services (PHS) Community in Cottage Grove, MN, where Chef Sam Nasr leads the Culinary Team.
Chef Sam wants to dispel the reputation of the senior living dining experience: bland food, boring menus and no room for creativity. He knows that Culinary Teams at PHS communities shatter those misperceptions. Chef Sam is among those known for their excellent food presentation and creative menu options. He strives to ensure that the residents have an exceptional experience visually as well as on their taste buds.
“Don’t just follow recipes.” Chef Sam’s words of wisdom to those considering a career in culinary also tell the story of how he ended up as the Executive Chef at Norris Square. Sam didn’t follow the career path he expected when he graduated with a degree in computer science. Instead, he found his calling in culinary; forging a unique path that allows him to craft creative and delicious meals for older adults at Norris Square.
Before arriving at Norris Square, Sam was Executive Chef at the MN Zoo and Science Museum. After many years enduring the long hours and high stress of a restaurant setting, he realized that he wanted something more. Sam’s mother-in-law, who lived in an assisted living community in Nebraska, often told him about the poor food service and quality. Sam felt that she and other older adults deserved better. How could he find a way to change the senior living dining experience and transform his career into something fulfilling and purposeful?
When the door of opportunity opened at PHS, he ran through it to become Executive Chef at Norris Square. Sam describes a significant difference between working in a for-profit restaurant setting and a non-profit senior living setting. “PHS is chiefly concerned with the people, not profit,” he explains. Sam was excited to adopt this new mindset and spent the next nine years determined to serve with excellence.
Building relationships and community
Sam builds lasting relationships with residents, finds out what foods they love and brings their culinary wishes to the table. “We take the time to create personalized meals according to residents’ tastes,” he says. There are few requests too outlandish for him to take on and nothing is more fulfilling than exceeding the expectations of those he serves.
Sam will not forget one beloved resident, Al Hanson. Whenever Sam served a meal for residents of The Arbor memory care neighborhoods, Al would order up, “I’ll have a steak and lobster!” It may have been a running joke between them, but Sam filed an idea away. On Al’s birthday, they shared the last laugh. Sam invited Al’s wife, sister and family to have dinner at Norris Square. Sam personally arranged for Al and his family to be served steak and lobster. Incredibly, Al later confessed, “I’ve never had steak and lobster in my life!” But he loved it and Al and his family were grateful for the exceptional food and act of kindness.
Experiences like this happen every day throughout PHS and the positive effects are experienced by residents and employees. Seasonal jobs are great if you’re looking for temporary work, but at PHS, we have opportunities in culinary that can lead to life-long careers and life-changing experiences.
The PHS difference
Sam describes the atmosphere at PHS as laid-back, flexible and full of meaning. He sees unlimited potential for the meals he creates and unlimited opportunities to make a resident’s day. “At PHS you are truly a part of a community, you are not a number.” Sam explains. “The CEO knows me by name and genuinely cares and the Campus Administrator steps in to help whenever possible.” Several staff members have followed Sam’s leadership and transferred from other organizations to PHS to become a part of the meaningful mission and creative culture.
There are many opportunities to explore on a PHS culinary team. Some may gain their first culinary experience as a server, learning firsthand the value of building relationships with residents. Others start as cooks or chefs, operating high quality kitchen equipment and expanding their repertoire of recipes. Yet others arrive with culinary experience and are ready to develop management skills and become culinary supervisors or directors. There isn’t a singular recipe for success in PHS culinary. Find the path that ignites your sense of purpose and stimulates your creativity.
Explore culinary opportunities within PHS that can lead to life-long careers and create smiles in the eyes of the people you serve as a member of the culinary team.