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BTG COVID-19 Ep. 11: Hopes & Smiles with Senior Living Chef Adam Grafton

BTG COVID-19 Ep. 11: Hopes & Smiles with Senior Living Chef Adam Grafton of Morrison Living

This series is designed to provide resources, share the love stories and encourage those who are overseeing the care of aging adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. We believe in you!

Welcome to Bridge the Gap podcast, a senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas on our special series dedicated to COVID-19 where we’re bringing thought leaders and people that are inspiring all over the industry to come on and talk to you about best practices and what’s going on in the industry today. Today we’ve got an exciting guest on. We’ve got Chef Adam Grafton and welcome to the show.


Adam: Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.


Lucas: Well, we know that dining is a major topic on a good day and during the middle of a crisis it is elevated to an entirely different platform and especially the one that we’re in right now that involves infection control. You are on the front lines of this and we’re interested to hear from you some of the best practices, what you guys are facing, how you’re able to overcome these challenges to feed our older adults.


Adam: Yeah, and I’d like to start out with just making a, you know, just thanking everybody out there, all the folks on the front line. I mean, it’s amazing to see and I’ll share quite a few stories and best practices, but it truly is amazing to see are the teams out there day in and day out going into communities and doing, doing what’s right and it’s in, it’s in their heart, you know, and I always, I always talk about this with our chefs. You know, when, when we’re recruiting chefs, it’s, it’s recruiting the right folks for senior living. Either you’ve got it or you don’t. And honestly, the folks on the front line have such a big heart for what they do and go in the community every day and taking care of our seniors. They’re truly amazing. 


And, and just again going back, I mean, it’s the folks in the communities. I think them having such a huge, you know, heart to do what they do. And really, you look at the chefs and the operators that are in the communities, you know, it’s what they do, you know, and, and, and so it’s about great food. It’s about creating that excellent experience. So as COVID-19 hit, you know, it’s about shifting gears for sure. You know, as a chef, it’s that, you know, all levels of care, equal emphasis, great, great food, great presentation. And then all of a sudden, you know the new regulations come out and now it becomes, you know, limiting communal dining. And obviously that means room service and disposables. So it’s about being really creative on how you create that experience and maintain the quality of the food. And, you know, it’s simply modifying menus versus jeopardizing quality is what, what has been the theme, you know, as I’m talking to our chefs out there in the field. 


Josh: So, chef, give us a couple of, just a kind of intangible things that as this delivery method has changed and you’re not compromising on quality, there’s a high attention to infection control. But what are some tangible things that you’re seeing being done in the communities to help the residents still have,, not only a quality food, but a quality experience. What are some things practically that are being done right now?


Adam: Yeah, so I think it’s the little touches. You know, each week we have what’s called our culinary resource hotline. So it’s where chefs operators can call in. Myself and my team hosts the calls. And it’s really about just an open forum for everybody to kind of talk about what they’re doing, listen in on what other communities and teams are doing. And that’s been a great outlet for us to really first off, understand what the best practices are and then how do we go ahead and apply that from an innovation standpoint, which is extremely important. 


So just some of the best practices when I talked, I mentioned little touches, you know, the thank you cards with handwritten notes from the dining service director and the chef and the team that go into those meal delivery bags that go to IL residents. The little touches of the ice cream cart that gets pushed around to the skilled nursing or assisted living areas. Everything from, you know, looking at themed meal deliveries. So earlier I mentioned about adjusting menus. That was the first critical thing that we did, but then it’s also elevating the experience. So instead of doing, you know, the normal menu that is, I’m on a rotation, teams out there have been applying theme meals. So if it’s a Chinese New Year, for example, or a Mexican themed Fiesta, they’re including those, obviously the menu items, but also fortune cookies, chopsticks. I mean, it’s those little touches of how do you make that experience the best you possibly can for our seniors. 


I’ve seen, I’ve heard stories of and our cornhole games playing, being played off of the balcony of residents rooms and, and facilities to setting up the cornhole underneath. And they’re taking turns playing cornhole off the balcony. I mean, it’s those little, it’s those little things that are truly, you know, making a difference. You know, and then I talk, you know, I mentioned earlier about turning those sorts of things into fun innovation. 


You know, one thing that we noticed and made clear of just the concerns of weight loss, right? So, you know, taking that feedback from our dieticians and our leaders and say, okay, now what can we do to kind of turn that into an innovation and we just rolled out what’s called 10 and 2 time to groove, which is awesome. So we put together a very simple fund menu of smoothies, snacks, and then we’ve positioned it where there’s full marketing that’s available. And then that 10 and 2 becomes an activity along with with food during 10 o’clock and two o’clock. And that’s, that’s just an example of how we’ve taken those best practices from listening to the teams out there and turning that into a fun innovation. 


Other things such as teaching kitchen, you know, prior to COVID-19. As an organization, we were doing fun teaching kitchens with our dieticians and our chefs. Taking menu, having residents come into that teaching kitchen and participate. But, now it becomes how do you still do teaching kitchens? While we use technology. Technology has become the norm and that’s the best way to be able to still provide that experience and those innovations is utilizing technology.


Josh: I love that. So, chef, that’s a little bit of great information for kind of the front of the house, the resident experience. Give us a quick insight on kind of those back of the house activities were keeping the teams motivated, communicating with them through this crisis when all of them, you know, are probably asking questions, you know, is it safe to be at work? You know, what should I be doing differently? Keeping the morale high, what are some creative things that you guys are doing during this time in the kind of the back of the house kitchen operations?


Adam: Yeah. So in terms of the back of the house not too much has changed other than obviously, you know, PPEs and, and making sure everything’s, you know, throughout the day is sanitized and clean. I mean, that’s no different than a pre COVID-19, you know, protocol or procedures in a kitchen. You know, I think it’s about getting creative. I really do as, as chefs, you know, go through this COVID-19 and, you know, it’s time to make some menu adjustments. You know, it’s getting creative for sure. Around the menu items. It’s getting creative around production, how you go about streamlining things, but again, without sacrificing the quality, you know, and as a chef, I mean, you want that. I mean, you want, not that you want what we’re doing right now, no one wants that. But as a chef, you always take that challenge and, and you’re able to meet that challenge.


And at the end of the day, it’s really about just great food, a great experience regardless of if it’s on a nice 12 inch wide white plate versus a disposable, honestly. So you get creative around the best way to present your food. Obviously the flavor doesn’t change. It’s still executed correctly, just that the menus may be a little bit smaller. And you don’t have the dining room that’s open, you know, it becomes, okay, so now, you know, how do we go ahead and create that experience from a delivery standpoint, from, from a room service standpoint. And that’s exactly what the teams are doing out there.


Lucas: Chef, what’s been the feedback from the residents?


Adam: Outstanding. I tell you, we have an internal workplace by Facebook and every day as I go on there and we all do, it’s amazing to see the notes from our residents, family members that’s posted on there. You know, we have, you know, we have what’s called serving smiles. And that’s an innovation that came out of COVID-19 for us. And it’s really simple. There’s several different thank you cards with some cool little graphics and just a reminder of how important it is to smile. You know, and I, and I wrote one down and my favorite one one of the cards, it says, sometimes hope is what makes us smile. Other times a smile is what gives us hope.


And so it’s those little touches and those cards are being used all over communities. So if it’s for our staff as a reminder to just to say thank you if it’s these cars being put into meal delivery bags, room service trays, whatever that is it’s just a way to say, you know, thank you and we’re going to get through this together. But a lot of great feedback from, from our residents posted all over our workplace by Facebook. So it’s fantastic to see. They appreciate it. 


You know, one thing I saw this morning on our workplace was you know, you can imagine this huge auditorium in a community that’s obviously not being used from an activity standpoint, but it’s loaded with eight foot tables and all the cardboard, you know, to go boxes lined up and you see in the photos, residents. Residents helping our staff load up these boxes. And this is day in and day out. Now, three times a day, residents are getting involved and helping out. I’ve seen photos of residents gathering meal tickets and organizing with our team members. So it’s what I love about that is it reminds me very much of when I first as a chef came into senior living 20 years ago and we always had around the corn season who would bring in big bushels of corn and resonance. It was an activity for them. They would take five, six bags, shuck them for us. They thank you. But I think we’re seeing more and more of that caring and that kindness and, and that’s, I think that’s fantastic for our younger that are in our communities to see that, that the residents participating and wanting to help and so there’s a lot of positive things and the more we can stay focused on the positive aspects of what we’re all working through right now, I think at the end of this there’s going to be some great things that come out of it.


Josh: Man. What great stories. Thank you for sharing that. It’s very encouraging and I agree with you. Oftentimes it’s in difficult times that people are really brought together. And innovation comes out of situations like this as you mentioned and so forward-looking. And I know that we as an industry and as humans that are going to be stronger for this and what an awesome opportunity to have you on the show this morning. And thank you for taking time with us. I know you’re extremely busy. And thank you for what you and your teams are doing. It’s a huge blessing and encouragement to us all.


Adam: Yeah, no, thank you very much for having me. It’s been, it’s a pleasure. So appreciate it.


Lucas: Chef Adam from Morrison Living on the program today, bringing that encouragement through a hope and a smile. Thank you so much. We appreciate you and your teams and to all of our listeners today just know that we believe in you and we’re thinking about you and we’re praying for you, everybody in these communities and operations. We hope that you have a very wonderful and blessed day and thanks for listening to Bridge the Gap.

Thanks for listening to this episode of Bridge the Gap podcast, the COVID-19 series. If you are company, community or caregivers are going above and beyond in their daily duties, we want to hear about it. Tag @BTGvoice on social media, or send us a message

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BTG COVID-19 Ep. 11: Hopes & Smiles with Senior Living Chef Adam Grafton