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Culinary creativity

Marcus Cordova heads up Wind Crest’s wildly popular dining program

Created date

July 24th, 2012

Marcus Cordova learned how to cook while trailing on the apron strings of his Grandma Lila. When he was just a boy, he followed her as she made dishes for the family restaurant. He wanted to help; he wanted to learn. For the last five years, Cordova has brought his cooking expertise and managerial skills to Wind Crest, where, as director of dining services, he shares the love he learned from his grandmother over searing pans and bubbling pots with the people who live at the Erickson Living community in Highlands Ranch, Colo.

The hand that stirs the pot

Cordova spent his summers with his grandparents in a small town in Southern Colorado. The mother of 9 and grandmother of nearly 40, Grandma Lila raised her family cooking for and running the one restaurant in a town so small you d miss it if you blinked, he says. In the 1970s, his grandparents retired and lived in Monta Vista. Meanwhile, Cordova grew up in the ranks of an Italian restaurant where he first started as a dishwasher at 15. By the time he was 18, he was managing the restaurant s kitchens in all three of its establishments. At 20, Cordova moved to Monta Vista to run his own restaurant, where Grandma Lila visited daily to taste sauces, offer advice, and deliver the corn tortillas she made for him. She was 65 then and is 86 now, still cooking up a storm in her own kitchen. Cordova says he learned valuable lessons from his grandmother that extended beyond the recipes. He learned to make each dish with love, and he also learned that how one treats people matters. He carries these lessons with him in his daily life when he prepares meals or consults in the Wind Crest kitchen or when he teaches his own children how to make his favorite dish of his grandmother s (grilled chicken tacos). It s the details that make things special the care and effort put into each meal. And his grandmother isn t the only one who s taught him. Everybody I ve ever worked with has taught me something valuable, Cordova says.

Just like a country club

Cooking for seniors wasn t something Cordova considered. Coming from a hospitality background, he admits he had a preconceived notion of retirement communities as a nursing home and that he couldn t have been more wrong. I envisioned long white corridors and residents in wheelchairs all lined up, Cordova says. But as soon as he saw Wind Crest, he thought, This is just like a country club. He also knew that cooking more than 1,000 meals every day would be a challenge that would help him keep growing as both a chef and a person. Cordova sees the people who live at Wind Crest as a large extended family and wants to make each event, each meal special for them. The restaurant offers special events every month, along with Theme Thursdays, which feature the creations of a different Wind Crest chef each week. This gives the people who live here even more variety on the menus and also allows the chefs a feeling of ownership, Cordova says. All of this echoes the fact that he trusts his culinary team and encourages them to push the creative envelope, all for the community s benefit. To be able to offer community members fun and fresh meals on the cutting edge, Cordova constantly consults with his culinary team. And it s the team itself (the nearly 150 people who both cook and serve food) that excites him their creativity, their energy, their enthusiasm. Not only is it contagious, but it s reflected in the food served daily at Wind Crest. This is one of the reasons Wind Crest s dining services has ranked highest in the nation among Erickson Living communities in the resident satisfaction survey for two years in a row. And Cordova says the love of cooking that his Grandma Lila taught him inspires him to strive for a third!