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2019 LCS Chef of the Year

A blog by Jaclyn Gardner, executive director for Danberry at Inverness.

“Back of the House.” This is the phrase that often references the culinary teams in any industry, including senior living. The talented chefs we have in “the back of the house” in our communities create memorable dining experiences for residents and guests daily. At LCS, we have an incredible range of talented chefs across the U.S. They develop menus that are unique, culturally diverse, regionally focused, and so much more.  So, why is there still a stereotype that the culinary experience in senior living communities is institutional or cafeteria-style?

This was a question discussed within a food and beverage focus group that I have been honored to lead. If this stereotype is still out there, how can we possibly recruit talented individuals to our industry and company? Most of our executive chefs tell us that they love the challenge of working in senior living.  It allows them autonomy to continuously create unique menus and introduce new techniques and cuisines to residents while simultaneously maintaining a work-life balance. Our chefs can “chef,” yet still be home at reasonable hours to spend time with loved ones.

Our focus group also discussed options to recognize the unique talent the chefs bring to LCS. We decided it was time to bring the “back of the house” chefs center stage. What better way to do that than creating a fun, interactive competition we call, Chef of the Year.

The exciting event established an action-packed competition between community chefs in both the Life Plan and Rental divisions. Our goal was to offer communities a way to showcase their chef as the premier culinary professional within the portfolio managed by Life Care Services. In addition, the event was an opportunity for the chefs to showcase how they lead their culinary departments to demonstrate hospitality and extraordinary experiences.

Following the application process, five chef finalists were selected to move on in the competition.  The Chef of the Year application process included culinary history and how LCS principles and initiatives were integrated in the chef’s culinary program.  Five chefs were chosen to compete in the 2019 inaugural event:

Michael AvilesUniversity Village Thousand Oaks, Thousand Oaks, CA

Matthew BishopBayshore Memory Care, Naples, FL

Hagop HagopianThe Clare, Chicago, IL

Jonathan KingThe Heritage at Brentwood, Brentwood, TN

Eric SayersThe Cypress of Hilton Head, Hilton Head Island, SC

a chef at a senior living communities tossing some pasta

The live event consisted of three rounds of competition and eliminations, leading to a showdown of two finalists. They cooked their dishes at the Sysco test kitchen, an amazing venue in Houston, Texas, with eight test kitchens and an auditorium.  In addition to the live audience of each chef’s leadership teams and family, all LCS communities and home office staff watched via livestream. One point decided the first-ever LCS Chef of the Year and Chef Hagop Hagopian, Executive Chef from The Clare in Chicago, IL, was awarded the title and the $10,000 cash prize. Additional congratulations go to the runner-up, Chef Eric Sayers from The Cypress of Hilton Head in Hilton Head, SC, and all the competing chefs.