Mind Your Manors 

A new chef brings gourmet to a local retirement community.

Seniors move to Trezevant Manor on North Highland to retire in style. The furnishings are lavish. The décor is swank. The apartments are nicer than many downtown condos. There's even an in-house beauty shop and grocery store. But until this year, the food was, well, less than gourmet. Or, as Trezevant's Food and Nutritional Services director Christopher Hui says, "overcooked" and "disappointing."

With the recent addition of executive chef James Smith, Hui says the food is finally up to par with the rest of the facility. Smith, who honed his skills at The Peabody hotel, Gold Strike Casino, and Southwind and Ridgeway country clubs, was hired as part of a major expansion project underway at Trezevant.

When Smith arrived, he spent some time scoping out the way things were done in the kitchen and says he was shocked at the "lack of creativity."

"For example, with the rainbow trout dish, they'd thaw it out, shake a little lemon pepper on it, and bake it," says Smith. "At the end of the night, I'd see it come back because nobody was eating it."

So Smith gave the cooks a little Creativity 101 and showed them how to make ordinary rainbow trout into trout amandine. He dusted it with a little flour, sautéed it, and concocted a lemon sauce "to throw in some French flair."

"When I served the first person the trout and they saw the beautiful color and presentation, I had the whole dining room ordering trout," he says. "I actually ran out of trout."

For now, Smith is working with the menu that was in place when he arrived because the facility's menu committee - several residents, Hui, and Smith - won't be putting together a new menu until the fall. He has a few ideas up his sleeve for the next menu, but for now, he's sprucing up what's already in place.

"Just because we're cooking the same things week after week, we don't have to make it the same dish every time," says Smith.

For example, the pork tenderloin, which is a resident favorite, is now served with a demi-glace, or mushroom cream sauce. Previously, it had no sauce, and according to Hui, "they used to cook the beef to death."

"Some people would tell me that before James came, they were ashamed to bring their families in to eat," said Hui. "Now, we could compete with any country club."

Cooking for senior citizens is a little different though, and Smith says he's still getting used to the changes. He has to puree foods for many of the residents living in Trezevant's medical-care facility and consider the dietary restrictions common to many other Trezevant residents.

"We have to make dishes with no salt," says Smith. "You're making all these nice dishes, but you can't add too much of this or too much of that. I always think it's going to take away from the flavor, but it usually still comes out tasting great."

Besides providing the residents with three meals a day, Smith has also started cooking classes to give residents fresh ideas to take back to their own kitchens in Trezevant's independent-living apartments. And he caters for private parties when the residents choose to invite friends or family over for dinner.

Resident Nancy Welsh recently hosted a dinner party for her friends, and she asked Smith to prepare a chocolate soufflé for dessert.

"That was the most fabulous dessert I've ever eaten," says Welsh. "I just adore his food. It's better than it was at home."

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