Mis En Place Matters at Shalom Cares
Shalom cares is a senior living facility that follows a credo of honor and respect at the core of its mission. As you walk into the lobby area, a large frosted wall welcomes visitors with a single message, “Honor Thy Mother and Honor Thy Father.”
The entire facility houses a nursing home as well as independent apartment homes and townhome style residences called patio homes. Technically, this facility’s model is called a CCRC, or a continued care retirement community. This type of facility implements a style of living for seniors in different stages of aging and with various types of needs.
The campus also contains a comprehensive wellness center that is available for residents and members of the senior community ages 65 and up. This facility includes a spa, barber shop and beauty salon, a rehabilitation and therapy gym, a senior fitness gym, a 95°F pool for water therapy and exercise and a public bistro stocked with healthy snacks, beverages and meals to-go. And speaking of meals, Shalom cares provides food for approximately 230 residents as well as the Meals on Wheels program and daily meals for the local Jewish Community Center.
That’s a lot of people to feed.
So how does it all happen and how is it organized?
We recently took a tour of Shalom Cares dining and kitchen facilities and got a chance to sit down with Director of Dining Services and Regional Executive Chef for Morrison Management Specialists, Matt Mitzel.
In an informative tour through Shalom Care’s kitchen and dining facilities it is clear to see that total organization is imperative for all food service operations. There are logistical considerations behind every corner, all twelve of them. This is because Shalom Cares is a kosher facility that houses three separate kitchens: one meat, one dairy and one parve kitchen.
To stay in line with kosher dietary laws, meat and dairy must remain separated at all times. This includes keeping separate food service equipment, pots, pans, utensils, plates, flatware, cups and other items to prep, cook, serve or eat food. The parve kitchen is the area where non-dairy and meatless foods are stored and cooked. Parve foods can be served with meat and dairy foods- however the parve kitchen must contain its own equipment and supplies to prep, cook and serve food as well. To keep all of this straight, a governing Va’ad and four Mashgiachs work with the kitchen team for all kosher regulations and organization. The Va’ad is a team of local rabbinic leaders who provide kosher supervision for food service establishments. The Mashgiachs are the supervisors who work on-site to assure that Shalom Cares is keeping with the kosher requirements that have been indicated by the Va’ad.
These special considerations sparked quite a few questions about how this is all handled in a commercial kitchen that feeds so many people on a daily basis, starting with:
What are the challenges of working with a kosher kitchen in a commercial setting?
Well, in addition to working on-site to assure top kosher-quality practices are followed, the Mashgiachs must also turn on the fire in the kitchen, or in modern and commercial terms, they must turn on cooking equipment that requires heat. This is followed in our kitchen and our staff is trained to understand and respect the importance of this rule being followed. The tricky part from a food service point of view, is after sundown on Friday, when Shabbat (Sabbath) begins. In observance and practice of Shabbat, Jewish people are not to perform or think about work from sundown on Friday until after nightfall on Saturday. Although our kitchen is not solely operated by Jewish people, we observe the no cooking rule after sundown on Friday. This is especially challenging during the winter months when the sun sets early.
To keep our kitchen running on the weekends, we have to plan ahead. Our Mashgiachs turn on the kitchen equipment on Friday night and it is left on until Saturday at sundown. The Mashgiach’s then return on Saturday after sundown to shut the equipment off. Also, because no cooking is to be done on Shabbat, we prepare all of the food for Saturday on Friday. On Saturday, the food is re-heated in the ovens that the Mashgiachs turned on Friday night. As long as the food is re-heated and not “cooked” we are still in compliance with the kosher guidelines from our Va’ad and we are able to provide meals without interference to our daily routine.
What type of equipment do you use to do the large batch cooking, storing and reheating?
We use the tilting skillet for a lot of large batch cooking, the walk-in cooler for storage and the convection oven for reheating. The convection oven really is the most used piece of equipment in our kitchens because we focus on offering healthy foods to our residents. We barely use our fryers. We have ovens in all of our kitchens, the meat, dairy and parve. We even have a baker on staff who makes all of our breads and desserts. He works out of the parve kitchen and this helps keep all of our breads kosher and fresh. Because we do a lot of large batch cooking that is held and reheated each week for Shabbat, we have to keep a very close eye on food storage temperatures. To help with absolute accuracy, we have a Wi-Fi monitor that constantly measures and updates the temperatures of our freezers and walk-in coolers. This is especially important to our operation as we have 18 cold storage units to monitor.
Your storage needs must be unique in comparison to other long-term care residential facilities. Can you explain how you accomplish adequate storage in a kosher food service operation of this size?
Well, we do have the separate kitchens and all food must be kept separate at all times. This means that meat deliveries must go directly to the meat kitchen and dairy deliveries must go directly to the dairy kitchen. Once the food is in its designated area, it is stored just like any other kitchen. Our walk-in cold storage units consist of a walk-in cooler that transition into a connected walk-in freezer. This saves space and keeps all of the cold storage in one convenient area.
We also code our food carriers and bus tubs with red tape for meat and blue tape for dairy. These keeps everything safely separated while food is in transit and for cleanup after mealtimes.
Dry storage is unique in that it is all parve items, meaning all the food in dry storage is free of dairy and meat. For the most part this is not as difficult to do, but we do have to have the Mashgiach check items such as hot chocolate for dairy before they are placed in a parve area. Our dry storage pantry runs between the dairy and meat kitchen and just behind the parve kitchen. This allows for easy access from all kitchens as these items are OK to move through any area.
Another storage consideration we have to maintain is that we have to store separate cooking and serving supplies for Passover. All of these supplies are kept separate as they need to be fit for Passover, meaning that nothing used for preparing or serving the food has come in touch with chametz. Chametz is a Hebrew word that is defined as any food product made from wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt, or their derivatives, which has leavened (risen). If flour from any of these five grains comes in contact with water or moisture, it will leaven, unless fully baked within eighteen minutes. In preparation for Passover, the entire kitchen is kashered as well. Kashering is a process of thoroughly cleaning the kitchen, pot, pans and serveware so that they are in compliance with the Va’ads requirements. This is to rid all surfaces of dirty substances before using these items for preparing, cooking or eating food.
Speaking of keeping everything clean, how do you handle dishwashing in a kosher kitchen?
Just like we have identical cooking areas on the dairy and meat side, we have identical dish washing areas. We use a conveyor dishwasher on each side and that works very well with keeping up with the large amount of dirty dishes our facility generates throughout the day.
Let’s talk more about what goes on in the dining areas. How many dining areas are there and what is the service style like?
There are three main dining rooms in the main building of Shalom Cares and another dining area in the apartment homes building.
The dining room for the apartment homes has a small kitchen right next to it. This kitchen only prepares salad and cold items on site. Everything else is prepared here in the main facility and is then transported over. We use warm holding equipment to keep food safe and ready to eat or reheat. The apartment homes are within a five to ten minute walking distance, but all of the prepared food is transported via golf cart. In the apartment homes’ dining room, residents are given menus with daily meal options. Each resident orders tableside from an employee and served at the table, just like in a restaurant. These residents also have their own kitchens in their apartments, so dining with the community is an added amenity and option.
In the main building, there are three dining rooms, but service is a little varied. We use a buffet-style setup that has meat on one side and dairy on the other. The buffets are identical in size and are set just opposite of each other. Residents order what they want from an employee and the food is plated up for them and brought to the table.
Some or our residents are on specific nutrition plans and may have difficulty swallowing or chewing certain textures. Because of this we have a system of cards that list the resident’s specific likes and dislikes as well as their nutritional requirements or restrictions. It’s important to us to provide a comforting and satisfying dining environment for every resident as food is something we have every day. It’s something we look forward to, take comfort in and it’s the first thing that is typically complained about if it is not satisfactory.
As an added bit of fun and entertainment, our chef provides cooking classes and demonstrations for residents in our meeting area. We make smoothies, crepes and anything else that can be done in a short demonstration without the need for ventilation or heavy-duty equipment.
On occasion we also provide table side desserts such as bananas foster or cherry jubilee. These particular food items bring back taste memories to the current generation we are serving and are a lot of fun to serve.
We also have an outdoor courtyard area with a BBQ grill. When the weather is cooperating, not too hot, too cold or wet, we host outdoor BBQ’s for the residents. Again we have to keep food separated in the color coded food carriers as we bring it back and forth from the kitchen to the outdoor cooking area.
And there is also the bistro in the Wellness Center…
Yes, the bistro is a welcoming place for residents, wellness center members and guests to meet and eat healthy selections of food. There are some fun food options like candy bars available too, but that inventory is limited as we like to promote healthy choices for good health. The bistro has a grill that features healthy options of well-balanced meals and snacks. These options include items such as a quinoa dishes, sandwiches or salads made- to-order and daily soups. This area is also kept kosher, but it is not supervised by the Mashgiachs.
What equipment do you use in the Bistro area?
We really use the induction burner a lot in addition to a panini grill. We have undercounter refrigeration, a full espresso bar, smoothie bar and hot dog bar. It’s mostly countertop equipment that can quickly produce made-to-order meals and snacks. The salads are made in the main kitchen and are brought up to the bistro.
And what about the meals the Shalom Cares kitchen provides for members of the community who are not residents, such as at the Jewish Community Center and Meals on Wheels?
Everything we prepare for these programs is done with the same kosher regulations as the residential facility. The only difference is that we use a lot of Cambros for safe warm and cold holding. The Cambros are separated by red and blue tape just as they are here. We provide about 35 meals a day with the Jewish Community Center and 55 meals per day with Meals on Wheels.
Although managing a kosher food service program has its challenges, Matt Mitzel points out the hard work every staff member puts in. “We work as a community who honors our mothers and fathers. We work with that as a focus in every interaction with our residents.” Through a lot of team work and well-maintained organization, Shalom Cares provides a large-scale food service program with nutritious, flavorful and enjoyable meals offered every day.
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