Balancing Flavor and Health: Our Food Philosophy

Balancing Flavor and Health: Our Food Philosophy


You might that think a French-born and European-trained chef is an unusual pick for a retirement community. You may think that…until you get to know a little more about Sunshine Retirement Living.

Last month, we talked about how the generational shift of our retirement communities is changing the way we think about our food program. We discussed how our chefs take pride in creating amazing, delicious dishes while also considering the vast and changing food preferences of two generations of residents.

The second piece essential in providing a superior dining program, however, is the health aspect; providing nutritious, flavorful options for seniors who have distinct needs such as tender meats, smaller portion sizes and foods to meet specific dietary needs. Though a challenge, meeting all these needs is fully embraced by the man under the big toque, our Regional Chef Gustavo, a European native and self-proclaimed lover of meat. He is working day after day to create diverse menus that balance health and flavor to meet the needs of our residents.

Trained in cuisine from Europe all the way to the Americas, Gustavo has been preparing menus for the communities at Sunshine Retirement Living for six years.

“I’m French, so you know, we don’t have as much regard for health in French food. But now I do,” Gustavo jokes, comparing his prior training to what he’s learned in his position at Sunshine Retirement Living.

Though he admittedly enjoys the occasional plate of not-so-healthy barbecue brisket, Gustavo has adapted his cooking to meet the dietary needs and specific tastes of a different culture and older generation.

“The company is very open minded and the residents guide the menus, not us,” comments Gustavo.

Each meal finds its way to our communities with Gustavo leading the process, creating healthy and tasty menus cooked from scratch, with a focus on health. From there, the community chefs add flavors depending on the tastes of their particular region. For example, communities around the New Orleans area may add a little Creole flavor to their dishes.

To address the healthy side of things, all of the dishes at Sunshine Retirement Living’s communities are built on the principle of low sodium, diverse meats and recipes made from scratch in order to control the fat and salt content.

“We don’t use hot or spicy,” says Gustavo. “We keep things tender. We try to substitute simple carbohydrates for complex ones to reduce sugar where we can.”

It may seem counter-intuitive, but Gustavo assures us, “flavor and health can coexist” with help of one kitchen secret: fresh ingredients.

“I can cook pretty much everything,” he says. “But I like fresh food. Even when cooking for myself, I go down to the market with an open mind and look at what’s fresh and make up my mind from there.”

He explains why this philosophy is important: “We never make anything for our residents that wouldn’t be good enough for ourselves, or healthy enough for our children. Our restaurant belongs to the residents. We come into their home and we become their family.”

And while Gustavo admits that sometimes the residents would rather have fried chicken or chicken fried steak, he tries to steer them towards healthier options.

“We really care for the residents we have,” says Gustavo. “And that’s why their desires are always top of mind, but their health takes priority.”

So, was trading in his European address and eat-what-you-want attitude towards food for low-sodium, low fat menus for seniors worth it for Gustavo? You bet!

“When I can make it happen—strike a balance between making the people I work for happy and making the residents who pay for it happy, I’ve done my job! And that makes me happy.”

There truly is a way to strike a balance between taste and health, and Gustavo, a chef with a surprising resume and French-trained background, has found it and passed it along to all of our community chefs.

*This blog was first published here: Sunshine Retirement Living

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