At The Covington, an ECS senior living community in South Orange County’s Aliso Viejo, holiday meals are an opportunity to create cultural experiences for residents.
The Covington is home to residents of many faiths. Holiday meals are a chance for residents to celebrate their faith and culture with others through food.
“There are multiple religious beliefs here at The Covington,” says Javier Sarmiento, Dining Services Director at The Covington, whose hospitality background includes The Four Seasons and Hilton Hotels. “So, when there’s a religious holiday, we try to accommodate as much as we can by creating delicious meals that are typical for that celebration.”
Holiday meals at The Covington are frequent throughout the year, and include Seder dinner for Passover and Chinese New Year.
“Our Executive Chef, Mike Desimone, is great at coming up with different dishes that accommodate our residents,” says Sarmiento. “It’s something we’re really proud of – attention to detail.”
Resident reaction is what makes it all worth it.
“Our residents are really appreciative of our dinners,” says Sarmiento. “I’m surrounded by an extremely talented team and it is really gratifying to be able to host meaningful celebrations like this for our residents.”
It’s not just the Culinary Team at The Covington that helps make these holiday meals happen. The resident Dining Services Committee plays a large role, too. “Our Committee is comprised of approximately 25 residents, but anyone can come to the meetings,” says resident Barbara Peck, Chair of the Dining Services Committee. “The purpose is to have an open, on-going conversation with our chefs, and to share comments and suggestions,” says Peck. “They’re always agreeable with what we have to say and open to ideas we have for upcoming events.”
The Committee gathers monthly, along with Sarmiento, Desimone, and the Dining Room Services Manager, Gerardo Guerrero. The group discusses upcoming celebrations and menu options. It takes about 2-3 weeks to execute a holiday meal, from ordering food, testing menus and tasting dishes, and making sure the meals look great on the plate. Depending on the number of residents who are attending a particular holiday dinner, the celebrations occur in The Covington’s variety of dining venues and event spaces such as the Grand View formal dining room, the Lounge, or Schumacher Hall.
These holiday meals are in addition to the approximately 11,500 meals The Covington’s Culinary Team executes each month.
“Food is a very important part of life at The Covington, and it’s done very well,” says Peck.
Part of what makes the meals at The Covington so delicious are the high-quality ingredients used by the Culinary Team.
Meals feature hormone-free poultry and beef that is USDA Choice or better. Santa Monica Seafood delivers fresh seafood twice weekly and selections are made per the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch guidelines. Locally sourced produce is always a priority to support nearby farmers and the region’s economy.
At one particular Committee meeting, a resident requested the Culinary Team bring back the Triple Chocolate Cookies, which had been phased out because of pandemic-related supply chain issues. “Sure enough, that same week, we had Triple Chocolate Cookies back on the menu,” says Peck. “Sometimes it’s the little things.”
“We normally wouldn’t be able to accommodate a request like this so quickly because of ingredients being on back order, so we got creative and had our pastry chef make the cookies from scratch,” says Sarmiento. “Whatever it takes.”
Another way residents are able to stay in touch with the Culinary Team at The Covington is through comment cards in each of the dining rooms. The cards give residents an opportunity to share their feedback on a particular dish or meal. “It helps motivate our team when we hear positive comments,” says Sarmiento. “And it gives us a chance to course-correct when we receive not-so-great comments. We want to hear it all.”
The Culinary Team occasionally receives handwritten recipes on the comment cards, a nice insight into residents’ tastes, memories, and passions. “Chef Desimone will take the resident’s recipe, work on it, and figure out how to implement it into our menus,” says Sarmiento. One such menu offering is called Grandma’s Favorite Meatloaf.
But while faith-based meals are an important aspect of life at The Covington, so, too, are the events that are simply a great time. These events add an extra air of festivity to an already active social life at The Covington. Events include luaus, barbecues, and even an Elvis Presley Night. “Whether it’s religious or not, we try to be very creative with what we do,” says Sarmiento.
Oktoberfest 2022 was a huge success and a lot of fun for residents. “The Dining Committee met with the Culinary Team, and we asked them to serve drinks and appetizers that would be found at a traditional Oktoberfest,” says Peck. “So, they brought in kegs of German beer, pretzels with cheese sauce, and bratwurst. It was a lot of fun.”
“The main point is to be able to give the residents a great experience,” says Sarmiento. “That’s what we’re here for.”