Dished: From Ritz to Retirement Dining, A Chef’s Perspective

Senior living dining has taken a turn in recent years—for the better. Cafeterias are no longer cutting it for the sophisticated and well-traveled residents of today’s senior living communities, and they are making way for restaurant-style dining and highly trained professional chefs.

One of those communities is Fox Hill, in Bethesda, Maryland. Showing its commitment to high-end cuisine, Fox Hill recently announced the hire of former Ritz-Carlton chef Quang Duong.

Chef Duong’s resume spans restaurants and hospitality, having been trained in France, and under world renowned chef Alain Ducasse—a Michelin Star-rated chef and restaurateur. He anticipates his work in luxury hotels will prepare him well for a more personal approach to the residents at Fox Hill.

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The change for Chef Duong will be met with some challenges, he acknowledges, but they are challenges that he welcomes. Plus, he says, his work at Fox Hill will still be “very much like the Ritz-Carlton.”

SHN asked Chef Duong about his transition to senior living dining, from ethnic food flair, to a lot less email.

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Senior Housing News: Have you ever worked in senior living dining before?

Chef Quang Duong: No.

SHN: What are you most looking forward to in transitioning to senior living from your work in hospitality dining?

QD: The personal service and becoming more like a personal chef.

SHN: What is the biggest difference in making that transition from hospitality to senior living?

QD: It is a very big difference. In senior living, it is the same customer every meal!

SHN: What menu items are you looking forward to introducing to the residents?

QD: For the River Room, Fox Hill’s main dining room, we change the menu every two weeks to introduce seasonal items and those that are market available daily. Here we offer Contemporary French/American with Asian flair and Latino cuisine.

Also, every Sunday we have different buffets: Prime Rib night, Pasta Night, Asian and Local (American, South American). There’s also monthly Sunday brunch with holiday themes. That might be Chinesse New year, a Valentine’s Day 4-course prix fixe, Mardi Gras …

For the Grill, we will change the menu by season. That’s more casual and seasonal.

SHN: How will management of your team differ from your past work? Are there differences in timing or operations?

QD: On the management side, there is less email, fewer meetings and fewer corporate projects… and more personal service to the guests.

The timing of operations are very different from in hospitality. There’s no overnight, no early or late outlet operations.

SHN: What’s the biggest luxury you see in working in senior care versus hospitality or restaurant settings?

QD: Personal service and care for the residents.

SHN: Do you think highly trained chefs such as yourself are more likely to consider opportunities in senior living than in the past?

QD: Yes. Highly trained chefs have a strong basis for their cooking and a lot experiences from traditional cuisines such as classics and comfort food. For example, we have a lot of residents who request different things like lobster bisque, Bouillabaisse, calf liver, onion soup and Dover sole. If a chef doesn’t have this basic culinary understanding, he or she cannot accommodate the wishes of the guests.

SHN: What do you view as some of the biggest challenges in your new role?

QD: The repeat daily customer is a challenge. That’s why we need to have lots of specials and a changing menu.

SHN: How can senior living, as an industry, do a better job to attract chefs from top culinary institutions?

QD: To attract chefs, we need good salaries and better relationships.

SHN: What is your favorite dish to prepare?

QD: Sea bass is always my favorite dish for my guests. It has been for the last 20 years.

SHN: What is your favorite dish to eat?

QD: Pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup), steak frites, and yucca.

Written by Elizabeth Ecker