Dished: Why Celebrity Chefs Are Here to Stay in Senior Living

Though they long ago laid their roots in the mainstream through the rise of Rachael Ray and Anthony Bourdain, celebrity chefs are still a relatively new phenomenon in senior living. But their presence begs the question as to whether the senior living population has subscribed to “foodie culture” to the extent that younger generations have, and whether these rising celebrities are recognizable to this audience.

After all, many of today’s senior living residents lived through the Great Depression and World War II eras—a far cry from global cuisine and internationally renowned chefs.

But a program rollout at Morrison Senior Living is proving that promoting dining through celebrities is an effective—and lasting—tool not only from the standpoint of resident engagement, but also community recognition and marketing.

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Celebrities flock to senior living

Some operators already have established partnerships with celebrity chefs—and they’ve been effective both in terms of resident experience, as well as developing culture around food and serving as a marketing platform for internal buzz and outside sales. Five Star Senior Living rolled out a partnership last year that has included top-chef style challenges across the country to showcase the participation of celebrity chef-partner Brad Miller.

And Morrison, through its partnership with many different senior living providers nationwide, has now signed with with a number of Food Network stars to provide demonstrations and raise interest in the culture of cooking and dining.

“When we put together a dining program, it’s not about just offering a special menu for the day,” says Regan Medzhibzher, Morrison Senior Living’s director of marketing. “It’s bringing an experience and hosting a party. It’s about making it engaging and fun. The program is educational and interactive. It brings that special ethnic cuisine for the well traveled foodies who are now living in our communities.”

To date, Morrison counts among its celebrity participants Fabio Viviani of Food Network fame; Ken Oringer, proprietor and chef for several restaurants nationwide including Boston’s Clio; Susan Feniger, who stars in Too Hot Tamales on the Food Network; Barcelona-trained, Puerto-Rico-based José Santaella; Cooking Channel “Spice Goddess” Bal Arneson; Jimmy Banos Jr. of Chicago’s famed The Purple Pig; and “Chef Jet” Tila, who specializes in Szechuan and Chinese cuisine.

Morrison has been featuring celebrity chefs since February in the program that launched this year. It was a few months in the making, but the results have been proven already, Morrison says, in the repeat requests among communities that have hosted the chefs, and the numbers of attendees who have frequented them.

“The chefs interact with residents, talk about their backgrounds, and a lot of them have cookbooks that they will autograph,” Medzhibzher says. “They come from different ethinicities and bring global influences to their cuisine”

Morrison, which works with more than 400 communites across the U.S., markets the program to those communities, and those that have held the chef events so far report that they are working.

At a recent event held at a LifeCare community in Virginia Beach, the Westminster-Canterbury at Chesapeake Bay, Chef Fabio Viviani entertained during a community fundraiser that raised more than $15,000.

“The program was exactly correct for the audience,” one of the event’s board members said of the event. “Fabio is an excellent chef, and even better, an outstanding entertainer and that is just what was needed for this kind of event. He had the audience under his spell.”

Whether the chefs are appreciated for their cooking or their entertainment presence may remain a question, but the results speak for themselves: the event garnered more than 60% participation from the community.

And the chefs have reported their enthusiasm as well.

“They are excited about this,” Medzhibzher says. “A lot of them are unfamiliar with or have not visited senior living communities. They will ask what will resonate with this audience. We tell them to tell their story, educate the residents on the cuisine and talk about how they became celebrity chefs.”

The added value

Entertainment is one thing, but the celebrity chef events are proving to make a lasting impact in other ways, too. They’re not just garnering the attention of residents.

And communities are getting creative with the way they are positioning the food demonstrations to broaden their reach.

One New Jersey-based community planned a chef event around new prospective residents. The Virgina community shaped it around a fundraiser. And many, many friends and family members have attended the events with residents.

One of the communities wanted its whole system of 8 properties to experience the demonstration, so it live streamed the event.

And the media is catching on, too.

“Local media has picked up on every one of the Morrison events,” Medzhibzher says.

Written by Elizabeth Ecker

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