Cooking On A Budget: The Adel Center

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Adel Center

From June to December 2, 2009 was perhaps the most rewarding period in my life so far. A strong recommendation from a friend led me to an interview for a part time cook at The Adel Center; a family owned and operated retirement community for elderly people who could no longer take care of themselves, their families could no longer take care of them or perhaps they made the choice themselves.
After a major lung operation and subsequent return to my job as a merchandiser for a major corporation, I was in a position where the physical part of the job increased, my pay and hours were decreased and I was expected to perform at maximum speed. I ended up leaving that job. While on unemployment I searched high and low for another place to work in an office as I had done that for several years as well. At every corner I was turned down.
Eventually I received a phone call from a friend who had owned her own restaurant for many years and was now the head cook at the facility. Would I be interested in coming in for an interview with the owners? Yes, indeed. The prospect that I could once again be cooking (I had at one time owned a food to go restaurant and sold a line of sauces I created) got me excited.
When I entered the facility I felt as if I had just stepped into a palace. A gorgeous shiny black baby grand piano, a fireplace and comfortable seating along with plush carpeting and chandelier and huge columns and marble all came together in the main foyer. The owners had built an incredible facility - it was stunning and welcoming.
After filling out the usual paperwork and handing over my resume I waited for my face to face interview. The interview began with the usual question and answers and then a tour of the facility showing the amenities offered to the residents.
During the interview I was told that one thing that was high on the list at this facility was to offer the residents the most nutritious food presented to them as though they were at a five star restaurant. It was all about giving them quality to their life.
High on the list during the interview was seeing the kitchen and the dining areas. The kitchen was fairly large and well equipped and the dining rooms - well they were amazing. Each room had been planned with class and comfort in mind. For the owners, Carmen and Denise, the dining experience and the food were definitely a top priority. Every thing that came out of the kitchen was to be of the highest quality and they served three main meals a day. Sunday was the only exception: breakfast, the main meal at noon and a lighter dinner in the evening.
Obviously my excitement and passion and love of cooking and pleasing people through food shone through. Asked for opinions and my food philosophy and tested here and there on my knowledge of food the interview ended in a hand shake, a new job that would begin only as part time work - a few hours here and there. It would be a great fit for both of us - unemployment would allow the supplemental hours and it worked well for the owners of  The Adel Center.
It did not take long to become a regular part time cook. The owner Carmen, took a shine to me immediately. He came in to see what I had planned to cook, tasted the food so that he knew he had made the right choice and quickly gained trust that I could produce incredibly delicious meals. There were a few times when I described the recipe I was making and he questioned it. However, upon tasting, he put all negative thoughts back in his pocket and gave me thumbs up. The decision between he and his wife was that I was highly creative with food, hard working and could be trusted to carry out their dining intentions for the residents.
Right from the start I began interacting with the residents - unfortunately there weren't many - around 30. As soon as the dishes were served and before clean up of the kitchen I would go out to the tables and ask them how the dinner was, how their day had been. Often, we joked and laughed. For every thing that I made there the residents also gained complete trust in me that the food would be outstanding.
One resident actually had complained to a waitress when I brought my waffle iron from home and made waffles from scratch for their breakfast that they must be frozen from a box. When she asked why the reply was "they are too perfect". I'll take that back handed compliment any day!
The time I spent with the residents, cooking for them and interacting I was immediately attracted to one lady in particular. She was simply known as MJ. MJ was from Poland and reminded me of my grandmother. She was often alone and off to the side. Other residents seemed to shun MJ. I discovered her love of nature, especially birds.
I remembered a bird book we got in on the line at my previous job and placed a call to a friend I worked with to ask her to keep an eye on whether another might come in. After telling her why and my story about MJ she willingly gave up her copy of the book. One of the nurses at the facility who, like me had taken a shine to MJ presented the book with me to MJ. Needless to say MJ was thrilled and so emotionally overwhelmed and grateful.
As I continued to work there and the residents shunned her [MJ] more and more I made every attempt to spend some quality moments with her. Sadly to say MJ was diagnosed with dementia and whether the other residents knew it or not was the reason why they did not want to be around her. Her moments of being lucid, eating habits and small bouts of anger only further alienated other residents. Since the facility at that time was not equipped to help her worsening condition, the family decided MJ would have to be transferred elsewhere to a place that specialized in patients with the disease.
On the day they moved her out, I was too late. MJ had left the building and I never got to say goodbye. Sad and tearful and very emotional - it was one of the hardest days for me and I felt as if a grandmother like figure had been taken from my life.
I truly loved the job - loved the fact that I had become master of the kitchen and could come up with the dinner, breakfast or lunch time meals on my own. Loved the people I cooked for and the people I worked for and especially loved the owners Carmen and Denise who were more than kind to me. The trust and faith they [Denise and Carmen] placed in me meant a great deal.
Unfortunately the bottom dropped out - the owners had extended themselves and with not enough residents  they were forced into having to sell to a huge corporation. Then on December 3rd 2009 I suffered a major heart attack, was hospitalized for a long period of time and would have quite a long at home recovery period. By then the transfer of ownership to a large corporation had already taken place and I would not be able to return to the job.
I now live with the memories - fond ones at that and know that the period from June 2009 to December 3rd 2009 was one of the most rewarding and special times of my life. Never did I ever think that [when I was younger] that working and interacting with the elderly would be something I would like. Glad I was wrong and happy now that I had the opportunity to make fond memories - hopefully for the residents at The Adel Center as well as for me.
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