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Bon appetit!

What’s cookin’ in and out of Tallgrass Creek’s kitchen

Created date

December 23rd, 2013
chef preparing food in front of woman

href=""> Creek Director of Dining Services Lea England and Executive Chef Marc Lewis are all about cooking for a crowd. 

England oversees the varied dining venues, menu choices, finances, and personnel at the Overland Park, Kans., Erickson Living community, along with “Chef Marc,” who coordinates all kitchen activity. Together, they have one goal.  

“Our mission is to provide enjoyable and satisfying dining experiences 365 days a year,” says England from the community’s spacious Blue Sky Restaurant, where she frequently chats with residents during dinner.    

That’s a tall order. We recently caught up with England and Lewis to ask a few questions about the culinary side of Tallgrass Creek.  

Q:How do you keep the dining experience fresh and enjoyable?

England: We have fun! An example is our Iron Chef competition we held during dinner one evening. Two of our line cooks were given the same four ingredients and limited time to prepare a signature dish at cooking stations set up in the dining room. The residents had tastings and voted for their favorite chef. Honestly, Food Network couldn’t have done it better. 

We also surprised everyone another evening with an entertaining magician who went table to table performing magic tricks. We like to mix it up because dining should be about more than just eating.  

Lewis: Something is always happening, and many times it involves food. Every Thursday is steak night, and Wednesdays we offer a make-your-own-sundae ice cream station with all kinds of toppings. We also help with special events such as our tailgate party (lots of barbecue and sides), Oktoberfest (wiener schnitzel, sauerbraten, and German potato salad), dances, wine tastings, and movie nights, to name just a few. 

Q:What are the biggest challenges in your positions?

England: As we transition to a larger community that includes not only 100% occupancy but also the opening of our continuing care neighborhood, we’re working for the dining part of that transition to be seamless to our residents. We’re always seeking ways to do things more efficiently. Yes, it’s a challenge, but the residents are so great, and we truly want them to be pleased.   

Lewis: I never forget we cook every day for more than 300 very good chefs—our residents. It requires energy and attention from the entire kitchen staff to ensure a daily, satisfying dining experience for them, and we work hard to accomplish that.  

Q:What is most meaningful about your jobs? 

England: I came here because Erickson Living demonstrates a culture and value system I can get behind. I’m very intertwined with Tallgrass Creek and its continuing care neighborhood, and I am rewarded by each community’s success and the wonderful people I’ve met. 

Lewis: I’ve been here two and half years, so I’ve had plenty of time to form relationships with many residents. That is, by far, the most rewarding part of my position. 

Q:Will you tell our readers about the recent Marketplace renovations?  

England: A major makeover! Our residents said they preferred a different venue, so we responded and renovated the entire area. Now the Marketplace offers multiple foods and beverages; grocery items such as milk, bread, greeting cards, and flowers; and even a shelf for vitamins and supplements that Dr. Welsh, our on-site physician, recommends. It’s still the same sunny, comfortable area, just bigger and better.  

Q:You’re both involved in culinary careers, so if you could ask anyone in the world to a dinner party, who would it be?

England: I would love to sit down with Bill and Hillary Clinton. They’ve been through such good and bad times, and it would be interesting to hear their life perspective.

Lewis: I’d go with my two favorite chefs: Gordon Ramsey and Wolfgang Puck. I’d like to prepare dinner and have them critique it. 

Q:One last question. What is something most residents and staff don’t know about you?

England: I was ordained as a minister in 1995. It helps me keep everything—both personally and professionally—in perspective. 

Lewis: My son recently received a baseball scholarship to Independence Community College, which ties right into my family’s major interest in baseball. My wife Cynthia never misses a Royals game, no matter what.


Fun food facts about dishing up dinner

•Tallgrass Creek orders about 550 pounds of beef each month for Thursday Steak Night. 

•Tallgrass Creek residents and staff consume more than 250 heads of lettuce each week along with 250 pounds of tomatoes each month. 

•Most requested meal? Chef Marc’s slow-cooked pot roast and garlic mashed potatoes.

•Favorite ice cream? Vanilla, chocolate, and spumoni. About 30 gallons of ice cream are ordered weekly.

•With sanitation and cleanliness a priority, Tallgrass Creek’s kitchen literally gleams. The staff washes and sterilizes more than 1,000 plates every day.

This is just the tip of the iceberg (and we’re not talking lettuce!). If interested in seeing the kitchen up close, residents and priority list members can sign up at the front desk for a tour of the state-of-the-art facility.