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‘It’s all made from scratch’

Tallgrass Creek’s chef loves cooking for a crowd

Created date

October 26th, 2010
Tallgrass CreekChef de Cuisine Shawn Donahue discovered his love for cooking at age 14. Thirty years later, he is still passionate about it. I washed dishes at a neighborhood restaurant, and, on weekends, the cook let me flip pancakes, says Donahue. I remember thinking, This is really fun, and that s when it all started. Donahue, from Omaha and the youngest of five children, was a bus boy at a popular pizza parlor in high school and, by graduation, was the kitchen manager. Over the years, he honed his craft at other restaurants and also was lead chef and kitchen manager at two Omaha country clubs. More recently, Donahue was the lunch chef at Indian Hills Country Club, an upscale, private establishment in suburban Mission Hills, Kans., where, along with other tasty items, he created seven soups every day. He became Tallgrass Creek s head chef two years ago. When I saw this wonderful kitchen and met some of the people I d be working with, I couldn t wait to get started, he says.

Served fresh every day

Donahue notes the kitchen staffs at many retirement communities are not responsible for actually creating meals. Rather, meals are premade and sent to the communities with the kitchen mainly responsible for heating and presentation. However, at Tallgrass Creek (and all Erickson Living communities), meals are made on site with fresh ingredients. Hence, the giant mound of potatoes in the kitchen s refrigerated, walk-in storage area waiting to be peeled and prepared. No boxed potatoes here, Donahue laughs. It s all made from scratch. Donahue s 12-member staff serves up seven entrees, two side dishes, three vegetables, two salads, two desserts, and accompanying beverages each night. They serve more than 200 evening meals six days a week as well as lunches and Sunday brunch. Donahue also works with the menu, orders food, oversees strict kitchen cleanliness guidelines, and trains the kitchen staff. My team is what makes me, says Donahue. We work together well, and it shows in our execution and presentation.

More than dining room fare

Donahue s staff provides the culinary backdrop for some of Tallgrass Creek s entertainment venues, such as five-course wine dinners which include entrees like herb-encrusted roast duckling or seared beef loin with brandied cranberry demi-glace. They were an integral part of October s anniversary celebration which sported a homecoming theme and featured a traditional tailgate party of ribs, brats, burgers, and hot dogs with all the trimmings. At another October event, Fork and Screen, Tallgrass Creek residents enjoyed a movie alongside munchies fresh from the community s kitchen. Interested residents can tour Tallgrass Creek s gleaming, state-of-the-art kitchen the second Tuesday of each month. Residents are always surprised at the over-sized ovens, pans, bowls, and devices it takes to produce large quantities of food. I m also amazed with the cleanliness of the kitchen and Shawn s energy level, says Bob Allen, one of the community s first residents. His commitment to getting it right is just so impressive. When Donahue is at home, he cooks for a smaller audience seven-year-old daughter Emily and girlfriend Mary Carroll. Along with other family favorites, Emily loves Donahue s double-decker, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He is also the neighborhood barbecue expert. Sometimes when I get home, I don t even take my chef s apron off, he laughs. I just keep going. Donahue s favorite dish to prepare? Soup all kinds. If you have the same recipe and three chefs, each soup will be different, he notes. It s so easy to put your own personal touch into it. When he allows himself a break, Donahue enjoys the occasional golf game and cruising on his 2007 Honda Shadow ACE motorcycle. But fortunately for Tallgrass Creek, he mostly likes to cook. His career as the community s head chef continues to fuel his creative and gastronomical instincts. We start early in the morning and work into the evening each day to create meals that are fresh, tasty, and interesting, he says. I never tire of the challenge.