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Four-star' dining experience

Top-notch chefs bring flavor and innovation to Brooksby

Created date

November 26th, 2013
Chef chopping vegetables

Michael Ayers was working as a sous chef at a Hyatt Hotel when he was given a tip that would ultimately change his career path. A former colleague who had gone on to work for a retirement community told Ayers that if he ever had the chance, he too should consider working in such an environment. While in his next role in a corporate dining facility, Ayers spotted an advertisement for the position of executive chef at Brooksby, the Erickson Living community in Peabody, Mass. Heeding his colleague s advice, he applied for and accepted the job. At Brooksby, Ayers is one of nine highly skilled chefs the team also includes four sous chefs and four chefs de cuisine who support the community s five restaurants. Graduates of prestigious culinary schools, Ayers and his team members put their skills and training to the test with menus that change constantly and a charge to innovate. Anything that we ve done in our career, we can do together here, says Ayers, who now has more than five years of service at Brooksby. Of his team, Ayers says: The fact that we have some phenomenal culinarians, they re really the heart and soul of what we do here. Jonathan Moore, chef de cuisine at Brooksby s Overlook Restaurant, agrees. I immediately fell in love with Brooksby, he says. I m the type who always enjoys a challenge. The menu changes daily. Residents have been eating their whole lives; they re not picky, but they know exactly what they like.

Innovation and options

Those who live at Brooksby can choose from two flexible meal plans included in the monthly service package. The traditional meal plan includes one meal a day each month, while a 20-meal-a-month plan is also available for those who enjoy eating some of their meals outside of the community. At Brooksby s two largest restaurants, the Overlook and Windsor, dinner menus typically feature a choice of four entrees, at least one of which is made a la carte, or prepared and served just after it is ordered. Brooksby s dining staff members are meticulous about details, like portioning their own meat, and peeling and cutting fruit every morning. It s the little things, Ayers says. We are always looking to be innovative and create a fun and high-quality dining experience. We constantly ask ourselves how we can continue to improve and evolve to exceed our guests expectations, says Charleen Archambault, director of dining services at Brooksby. We are fortunate to have a group of chefs that clearly love what they do. Brooksby s chefs are challenged to feature their own specials on a regular basis. The chefs de cuisine have the opportunity to pair ingredients in an exciting way, with a focus on presentation and flavor pairings, Archambault says. These recipes are almost entirely created by the chefs, though restaurants sometimes feature resident recipes too. I love the chefs specials, says Dick Thornburg, who lives at Brooksby and often sits at the Overlook s counter with his wife to watch the chefs prepare the food. [It s] a four-star restaurant.

Festive dining

Throughout the year, Brooksby s restaurants offer themed nights and festive holiday brunches, inviting community members and their family and friends to enjoy seasonal menu items served in decorated restaurants. This gives the restaurants the opportunity to feature fun and exciting ingredients, for instance, pancakes with fall flavors such as sweet potato, maple, or pumpkin, and roast carving stations by our chefs, Archambault says of the holiday brunches. The menus reflect both traditional aspects of the dining experience and items that are in season. For residents who choose to host family and friends, Brooksby s restaurants also offer deliveries of prepared traditional holiday meals that serve 12 people. Brooksby also provides catering for an average of one big event per week and smaller events that equal about 300 meals a week, says Moore. Throughout the year, those who live at Brooksby have an opportunity to partake in an Elegant Evening with a four-course dinner designed by the chefs de cuisine and paired with wine. Served in the Cider House Pub, which is transformed with dimmed lighting and fancy tablecloths, the events often sell out before the menus are posted. The elegant dinners are limited to 32 people, Ayers says, because I want to make sure we can give them top-notch service. Adds Archambault: We appreciate the trust that the residents put in us for creating this unique dining experience; many residents are trying pairings they have never had before. The mutual respect and trust between Brooksby s chefs and restaurant patrons is clear. Of the residents, Ayers says, You get to know them day in and day out. You re in their homes, and you re building relationships and learning from them. You can t get that in a restaurant. It takes me 25 minutes to get through campus because I m talking to everyone. Chef Ayers stuffed calamari ' with fennel and tomato sauce Serves 5-6 people Calamari directions 1. Preheat a large saut pan, add the olive oil, then the onions. Cook until soft. 2. Add the shrimp and let cook until they turn a light red, then add the garlic. Let cook for one minute. Season with salt and pepper. 3. Add the herbs and stir well. 4. Remove from heat and add the bread crumbs, melted butter, and pine nuts. Stir well. 5. The mixture should be moist and form a ball when pressed together (add more melted butter if necessary). Let cool completely. 6. Place the stuffing in each squid tube, filling them three-quarters full and leaving room for the calamari to shrink. 7. Secure the opening of the calamari with a toothpick to prevent the stuffing from escaping during baking. 8. Place in a single layer in a 2-qt oven-proof baking dish. Sauce directions 1. Heat a large saut pan to medium-high heat. 2. Place the olive oil in the pan. 3. Add the sliced fennel and sliced onions, and cook just until the vegetables are slightly wilted (5 minutes). 4. Add the garlic. 5. Season with salt and pepper. 6. Add the basil and wine, and simmer for 5 minutes. 7. Add the two cans of diced tomatoes, and simmer for 5 minutes. 8. Pour the sauce over the calamari. Cover with foil, and bake at 350 degrees for one hour.