Visiting Chef goes Gourment for Seniors in the Region

Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Waterbury Republican-American (print edition)
Waterbury, CT

Grant allows for variety in the menu

By about 9:30 a.m., Jason Matula has everything in its right place.

Mise en place, he’ll say, a French phrase meaning “put­ting in place” the proper in­gredients and other items he will need for the coming feast.

Matula, a chef at The Wa­termark at East Hill, is slight­ly out of place himself. On Tuesdays and Thursdays he’s acquainting himself with an unfamiliar place — the kitchen at the Southbury Se­nior Center.

Matula, along with James Bain, visits as part of a two­day- per-week program of­fered through New Opportu­nities, a nonprofit social serv­ices agency based in Water­bury, and the Southbury Se­nior Center. The two cooked meals for about 10 seniors in Southbury Tuesday, but also provided food for Middlebury and Woodbury seniors.

Their day started around 9:30 a.m., when they pre­pared baked catfish, cream of broccoli soup and roasted Brussels sprouts for lunch. The program’s focus is to pro­vide restaurant-quality meals for a low cost, with seniors asked to donate between $3.50 and $5 per meal.

“It’s a great opportunity for us,” Matula said.

Matula and Bain prepared one set of meals to be deliv­ered in a truck to Middlebury and Woodbury, where atten­dance has grown for the pro­gram since it launched on July 18, before cooking for Southbury.

Bain said the approach the two men take is the same as they do at East Hill — try to avoid a senior or assisted-liv­ing designation and provide something special.

“We want to comfort peo­ple through our food,” Bain said. “It’s our business to make people happy. They like the food and they’ve been very appreciative.”

Lisa LaBonte, the senior nutrition program director for New Opportunities who helped to organize the pro­gram, said she hopes to move the chefs around to other communities in an attempt to bring more seniors back.

“When people see someone on site, they love it,” LaBonte said. “We wanted to see if they could do something spe­cial with it.”

Sharon Gesek, the senior center director, said she no­ticed her daily lunch program numbers dipping and hover­ing around six to eight atten­dees each day within the past year. So Gesek applied for a grant through the Connecti­cut Community Foundation to see if she could hire a chef for two days a week, in an at­tempt to bring back the sen­iors who had gone elsewhere.

Now, seniors can sign up for the program using a meal plan card up to a week in ad­vance. Since the program started, Gesek said, the group has nearly doubled and she expects it to grow further.

“There are people who would appreciate a less insti­tutionalized meal,” Gesek said. “We worked for quite a while to get this done.”

Kevin Casey sat with his friend Bob Jansen on Tues­day at the center. Both men had participated in the previ­ous program and while they were disappointed that the new program is only two days a week instead of four, Casey said the new setup is an im­provement.

“They’re trying to do much better than they did,” Casey said. “I’ve tried it, and if I like it I’ll keep coming back.”

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