Local chef makes foodies out of nursing home residents

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Chefs Wayne Alloway, left, and Tony Primavera display one of the gourmet meals they have prepared for residents like Catherine Spaar and Pat McMillan. Chefs Wayne Alloway, left, and Tony Primavera display one of the gourmet meals they have prepared for residents like Catherine Spaar and Pat McMillan.

LOWER TOWNSHIP – Wildwood Crest resident Tony Primavera is doing his best to help elderly residents of North Cape Center become full-fledged foodies.

It’s not a hard task, he said.

When the Lower Township healthcare facility hired Primavera and several other chefs this spring to bring some zing to its menus, residents showed their enthusiasm by helping to grow fresh herbs and vegetables in gardens outside their bedroom windows and in the facility’s main courtyard, Primavera said.

Primavera couldn’t be more delighted.

“We want residents to feel at home here, including having dinners that are as good as they could have at their own homes,” he said. “We now have up to 20 kinds of herbs, and, for other ingredients, we try to use fresh ingredients from all over the county.”

Primavera said he has long loved the fresh produce and fish available in Cape May County.

“You can get frozen zucchini anywhere, but it’s different here, when you can go up the street to a place like LeGates Farm and get something you can sauté up with garlic – all fresh,” he said. “It’s fresh, it’s good, and it’s even colorful – which makes for a great presentation.”

After attending Lower Cape May Regional High School and County Vo-tec, where he was in the culinary arts program, Primavera attended the Academy of Culinary Arts at Atlantic Cape Community College in Mays Landing. He graduated in 2007 and headed directly into some restaurant ventures in Lower Township.

He spent a year at Little Italy, and then was a co-owner of Bella Mangiata from 2007 to 2010.

But ultimately, he said, he knew that he’d like to move away from owning a restaurant (which, he said, can “make you very old very quickly”) and toward more of an executive chef position or food service director in a healthcare or corporate setting.

That means using your skills and experience to meet clients’ unique needs, Primavera said.

At North Cape Center, he is presented with a mixed age group, since the facility is both a nursing home for the elderly and a rehabilitation center used by many middle-age adults. The challenge is to keep meals feeling fresh and creative.

“Especially for people living here long-term, you don’t want them to feel like they’re on a food schedule,” Primavera said. “You try to have something different every week, not let them get to thinking that, say, Friday always means one particular type of food.”

At breakfast, he said, patients choose ingredients for a fresh omelet from an omelet station. And on weekends, they are encouraged to entertain their family members in the dining room over a delicious meal.

“Everybody loves the round roast beef,” Primavera commented, “so we have worked to do it a number of different ways.”

Primavera does have guidelines that he must observe, starting with a basic menu plan prepared by the nursing home’s operator, Genesis Health Systems, and based upon nutritional and other dietary requirements. Calorie and sodium requirements are particularly important with the elderly, he noted.

“But we can put our own little twists on it,” he said.

Primavera also has an opportunity to observe and do some no-holds-barred cooking in his part-time job as a chef at the gourmet 410 Bank Street in Cape May, where he works with five or six other chefs.

“It’s like going to culinary school all over again,” he said.

Culinary school wasn’t the only place he developed his skills, though. With a name like Primavera, it seemed that he was born to cook.

“The name means ‘first of spring,’” Primavera said. “My grandparents were from Italy, and moved here to South Philly in the 1930’s, so they had that whole twist of everything. I was lucky that, the last few years my grandmother was around, she taught me how to cook. I love my Italian heritage, and all the food.

“But I like to diversify. I don’t stick with any one type of food. Today, everybody’s from everywhere else, and we have to adapt.”

At North Cape Center, he noted, he and the center’s dining director host cooking demonstrations and taste-testings for new ideas.

“As long as you love cooking, it all works out great.”

 


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