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A focus on hospitality

Continuing care chef caters to residents’ wishes

Created date

March 26th, 2013

Will Harris is a lifelong student of the culinary arts. As chef manager for the continuing care neighborhood at Highland Springs, an Erickson Living community in North Dallas, Harris brings a world of experience to his new position. I grew up in New Orleans, and my first job was cleaning the kitchen at Ruff Chicken House, says Harris. I was in awe of the chef and how he chose dishes and flavors to complement one another. I fell in love with the idea of putting together a menu for other people to enjoy. Lacking the funds needed for culinary school, Harris looked for other ways to pursue his dream. I saw an Army billboard with the slogan Be all you can be, says Harris. I went to see a recruiter and told him I wanted to be a chef. He said they could use some cooks in the army. Harris enlisted in 1980 and completed his basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., before heading to the culinary arts school at Fort Lee, Va. From there, Harris spent two years at Fort Carson, Colo., before the Army sent him overseas to Berlin, Germany.

Mastering European cuisine

Berlin was paradise, says Harris. It was like the New York of Germany. We had 30 chefs cooking for more than 3,000 soldiers. We won an award for the best dining facility in the U.S. Army. Harris culinary skills didn t go unnoticed. General Gary Luck asked Harris to be his personal chef. Whenever General Luck traveled to other parts of Europe, I accompanied him and prepared meals for him and his guests, Harris says. I learned so much from watching chefs in the hotels where we were staying. I started carrying around a notepad and writing down their recipes. I learned to shop in the local markets and recognize the specialties of the region. Harris spent three and a half years canvassing Europe with General Luck. After 12 years in the military, Harris went to work for a defense contractor as a quality assurance food service director in South Korea. I never left the food service industry, although I had a variety of different experiences, says Harris. I owned a restaurant, A Taste of New Orleans, in Wichita Falls for 15 years. During that time, I went back to school at Oklahoma State University and became a certified dietary manager. When Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005, Harris traveled to Biloxi, Miss., to help restore the dining program at Seashore Retirement Community. He s been in the senior living industry ever since. When I interviewed for my current position, I realized that continuing care at Highland Springs is seven to ten years ahead of everyone else in the industry, says Harris. This is what the future of continuing care looks like.

Concierge dining

Harris still carries his notepad with him wherever he goes, jotting down menu pairings and suggestions from residents. Our dining program is predicated on choice, says Harris. The meal periods and food options are tailored to the preferences of our residents. If a resident wants an omelet with bacon and toast at three in the afternoon, that s what we ll serve. To accommodate after-hours dining requests, a selection of guest-preferred snacks are available in the common-area bistro refrigerators. If we know a resident likes to eat a bowl of Blue Bell ice cream at 8 o clock every evening, we ll make sure it s there, says Harris.