Dished: ‘Cutthroat’ Competition Hits Senior Living Dining

Cooking in a senior living community isn’t always straightforward. Chefs have to know their residents’ food preferences and dietary restrictions, and go on to prepare food that meets their needs and remains tasty, all while ensuring the staff gets plates on the table efficiently.

Imagine, then, if the task were made even more complicated by requiring chefs to cook without their usual gear or asking them to incorporate unusual ingredients.

That’s the approach Morrison Community Living took for the four chefs competing in its latest ‘Food Fight’ competition, an annual event aimed at engaging its culinary teams, in which a handful of senior living chefs participate in a final, head-to-head challenge after a series of preliminary, regional face-offs. The June 15 competition took place at Hillcrest Community in LaVerne, California, and was hosted by “Chef Jet” Tila, an American celebrity chef who specializes in Szechuan and other Chinese cuisine and has made appearances on the Food Network’s “Chopped” and “Iron Chef America,” among other shows.

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Morrison Community Living, a member of Compass Group and a dining and hospitality services company, is devoted exclusively to serving senior living clients. The four competitors represented both Morrison Community Living and TouchPoint Support Services, an acute care food service and support services provider, and also a member of Compass Group.

Tila partnered with Compass Group more than six years ago, making appearances and providing demonstrations at senior living communities across the country as part of Morrison’s celebrity partnerships.

“This is the first year we implemented a more cutthroat style,” Tila told Senior Housing News.

By that, Tila means the “Food Fight” competition resembles the Food Network show “Cutthroat Kitchen,” in which competitors must complete assigned meals with certain sabotages thrown their way. Each round, one chef is eliminated until there is a winner.

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For example, in one round, Tila asked the chefs to make a barbecue plate using products from Hormel, a sponsor of the competition. However, he took away their heat sources, instead forcing them to cook with a small, plug-in mini kitchen. Tila also required that the chefs use barbecue claws—typically used to pull meat apart—as their hands while cooking.

In another round, Tila had the chefs do a soup and sandwich plate, with the sabotage of taking away all their pots and pans. This meant they had to use soup cans for their cooking. Meanwhile, the chefs paired off and had to don peanut butter and jelly costumes, which were latched together and forced them to remain attached while finishing their assigned task.

“[The sabotages] are totally survivable and tested,” Tila said. “They’re very visual, and they encourage audience engagement.”

Chef Matt Luangla with TouchPoint Support Services took home first-place honors, coming up with recipes like a double crust chocolate cheese cake pizza topped with strawberry salsa for a dessert pizza round and an Indian-spiced eggplant soup for the soup and sandwich plate.

In addition to more than 200 people in the audience, social media applications like Facebook Live and live tweeting on Twitter allowed chefs and residents at Morrison’s communities across the country to tune in live and watch the competition.

And for the chefs involved—whether they competed in regional competitions or moved on to compete in the final event—Morrison’s “Food Fights” promise a new level of energy and engagement through friendly competition.

“Chefs working at senior living communities see the same thing day in and day out,” Tila said. “It causes stagnation. To be able to exchange ideas—it energizes the chefs, and it energizes the team. It brings new ideas, keeps the menus very exciting and keeps the chefs engaged.”

Written by Kourtney Liepelt

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