Panel discussion at the Aged Care Catering Summit.

Posted on Friday, 21ˢᵗ June, 2024

At the recent Aged Care Catering Summit in Sydney, Estia Healths Hospitality Manager, Nathan Griffiths and Head Chef, Kunal Patel shared their experience and insights into what makes their food service operations successful.

Estia Health has 75 residential aged care homes across Australia, so quality, consistency and efficient food service are a big focus to ensure residents’ satisfaction. 

Leadership and teamwork

First and foremost, both Nathan and Kunal point to leadership and teamwork as the foundation of their kitchen’s success.

As the Hospitality Manager at Estia Health, Nathan supports Chefs across multiple homes, making sure standards are maintained, and staff are well-coordinated.

By fostering a supportive and collaborative environment, Chefs can ensure that every meal is prepared with care and consistency.

Estia Health also looks for Chefs with prior experience in hospitality, who are ready for a new challenge and are open to embrace the nuances of food in aged care. 

Adapting to residents' needs

The need to cater to diverse dietary requirements and preferences is critical. Nathan and Kunal both stressed the importance of understanding their residents’ needs in terms of texture modification and allergies - as well as getting to know their specific flavour and meal likes and dislikes.

This personalised approach helps in planning menus that are both nutritious and enjoyable. It also means the kitchen needs to have a flexible approach to menu design and be able to accommodate last-minute meal requests. Kunal points out, being able to adapt menus based on seasonal ingredients as well as residents' feedback is essential.

This flexibility not only keeps the meals interesting but also ensures that residents receive the best possible nutrition.

Estia Health also likes to use cultural and festive events to introduce new flavours and food ideas to residents, and it is always received positively. Recently, celebrations of Diwali gave their Chefs the scope to try different dishes and come up with ideas for foods their residents wouldn’t normally be served.

Fresh, home-style cooking

Estia Health philosophy of home-style, fresh food is central to their operations. Kunal believes that this resonates well with residents, providing them with familiar and comforting meals, great flavours and shows commitment to the residents' well-being.

'At Estia Health St Ives home, we have a smoker which means we can prepare something like a beef shank overnight, then serve pulled beef tacos the next day. It’s something residents love, and it means our Chefs can innovate and push the boundaries a bit.'

Fresh, home-style cooking

Streamlining operations

Nathan and Kunal emphasised the importance of efficient workflow in the kitchen. From inventory management to meal preparation, every step needs to be streamlined. This allows the team to focus more on cooking and less on logistics.

Their top tips for a well-run kitchen are:

  1. The right team is essential, as well as good skills and training. You can do anything if those are invested in.
  2. Make sure you have the right tools for the job, and they are maintained in good order. There is no reason to put up with broken equipment that slows things down or compromises quality.
  3. Establish clear communication in your kitchen so everyone from head Chefs to the people helping in the dining rooms are all on the same page.

A positive environment

Engaging with residents can make a big difference in how they perceive their meals. Nathan suggests involving residents in menu planning and seeking their feedback regularly. It helps residents feel involved and brings a sense of community to the home.

Maintaining a positive work environment is equally important. Kunal believes that recognising and appreciating the efforts of kitchen staff goes a long way. Regular team-building activities and open communication channels help to boost morale.

A story from Head Chef Kunal Patel

We have a 96-year-old gentleman, at the previous place that I was working. His name was Chris. He owned a small fish and chips shop many years back.

He said to me; you know, your fish and chips don't really taste nice. So I said okay, why don't you come in, and let's make Fish & Chips together. And believe it or not, we made the fish and chips together.

He was in a wheelchair but was able to direct me. He was making the batter super crispy. We took Fish & Chips to the next level.

In the following weeks, he made burgers for the entire home, then we did apple fritters, and he would regularly come in and, you know, chop some pasta up with me, share a meal with me, and a few other people in the kitchen, set up a table, or the chef's table in the kitchen.

And we just started regularly inviting new residents to come and have a meal in the kitchen, straight from the pot onto the table. So, you know, that sort of experience went through the home.

Whenever Chris was in the kitchen, he used to let everyone know, it's Chris's lunch today. So everyone knew they were getting hamburgers today, or fish and chips today, or desserts today, apple fritters, for example. Everyone was looking forward to it.

We'd applaud him and make him feel so happy. That's neat.​

Both Nathan and Kunal agree it takes a balance of culinary skills, team-focused leadership, and a deep commitment to the well-being of their residents to keep their kitchens running smoothly. Without these foundations, they would not be able to provide the quality of service Estia Health is known for.

Find out more about Aged Care RE:FRESH