In celebration of Pride in Food Service week, we interviewed two food service professionals, Steve Smith and Amber Higgins. Steve is a Certified Executive Chef and as NHC’s Corporate Chef, he is responsible for menu development, quality food service and moving the NHC culinary focus forward. Amber is the Director of Food Service at NHC Maury Regional in Columbia, TN.  Amber has been able to grow her career in food service and with NHC’s financial support, achieve her Certified Dietary Manager certification.

What are some things to know about Steve Smith and Amber Higgins?

Steve and Amber are both examples of how food service offers opportunity and advancement.

Steve became the Corporate Chef at NHC after guiding food service programs at individual centers. Amber always had a passion for food and was able to start her career at a center near her home, and over time, she has been able to move up in the food service and achieve her Certified Dietary Manager certification.

What inspires a chef to transition from the restaurant setting to senior care?

Working long hours in restaurants takes a toll on people and does not give much time for family life. But in senior care, chefs are drawn to the opportunity to take care of seniors through the food they are served. Chefs can learn their craft, become technically proficient and then they can show their love for others through their food.

There are some stereotypes of what food is like in senior care. What is the experience for our patients and residents now?

People eat with their eyes first. Then the sense of smell and taste come in. We like to give our residents and patients as many choices as possible with beautiful salads, roasted meats, seafood, regional and seasonal favorites and upscale comfort food.

Nutrition in seniors is very important and we hear that food ranks very high in customer satisfaction. How do you balance creating healthy and delicious food?

We work with a team of dietitians in the company and stay abreast of food trends for seniors. Comfort foods are always popular. But ultimately, we want residents to eat and be nourished.

Food is the linchpin to healthy eating and healthy residents.

What’s a favorite across all centers?  

Fried chicken or meatloaf, but even those become regionalized. Fried chicken in Missouri is different that what is served in Alabama. But typically most residents and patients like the comfort foods they great up eating at their family table.

How does working with NHC compare with work in restaurants?

Not only do you have work life balance and get to make people happy, but the benefits are much better than most restaurants. There is vacation, weekends off, a 401K and insurance plans.

What opportunities and advancements are in senior care? 

In food service, you get to move up through different positions in the kitchen, interact with the residents and patients and families, and give them joy and happiness on a plate. You are able to take advantage of education opportunities like becoming a Certified Dietary Manager.

Tell us what a Certified Dietary Manager is and why it’s important? 

The dietary manager handles the day-to-day operations in the kitchen. They are well trained in safety, sanitation and teaching skills. Their job is responsible for vendor relationships, menus, adherence to recipes and what is ultimately served on the plate.

We hear a lot about interdisciplinary teamwork in senior care. How do you in food service work with other disciplines? 

We work with all our partners. One of the fun things we do is plan food activities and parties for patients and residents one or two times a week. They get to take part in helping put together the food and eat it.

Is it rewarding to know you are part of the health and welfare of seniors?

A career at NHC is so fulfilling. We want to give our patients experiences we would want for our own families. So we try to brighten their days with a favorite food or a Happy Birthday cupcake that shows they are loved.

What’s a special memory you have of serving seniors?

Thanksgiving is a favorite. The meals are always special. We invite  families in and the patient gets to have a meal with family like they have always had. It is one of the most rewarding days.