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Visions of culinary excellence

New dining director sees innovation, engagement, flexibility at Cedar Crest

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April 23rd, 2014
Cedar Crest Dining Director Edward Wang talks turkey with resident Wanda Spallina.
Cedar Crest Dining Director Edward Wang talks turk

Edward Wang isn’t new to the culinary world. For 30 years, he’s infiltrated the food and beverage industry. He’s worked in the “back of the house” (kitchen), the “front of the house” (service), food styling and branding, and hotel and restaurant management. 

“I put myself through school working in hotels and restaurants,” says Wang, who holds a bachelor’s in fine arts. “The bug bit me.” 

Today, Wang (a self-proclaimed “foodie”) is helping an Erickson Living community in Pompton Plains, N.J., reach unrivaled goals for culinary excellence. As Cedar Crest’s new director of dining services, Wang takes a deeper look at what his customers want, changes in demographics from one generation to the next, and how his staff plays an important role in achieving his—and the company’s—goals.

“My goal when I came here is to be recognized as the highest culinary community in Erickson Living,” Wang says, “a center of excellence.” 

Not just about the food

Wang says senior living is changing. 

“It’s becoming more of a hospitality industry. The demographics coming in are the Silent Generation and the Baby Boomers. They are completely different from the G.I. Generation,” he says, citing ideas presented in the book Generations, by Neil Howe and William Strauss. “They want flexibility, choice, and specialties.” 

Meeting those wants and needs is what Wang is all about. 

First, his focus aims at maintaining and even increasing engagement between his culinary and service staff and residents. 

“Of any company I’ve ever worked for, Erickson Living makes engagement between staff and residents a top priority,” Wang says. “The quality of life and mission of the business focus on the people—caring, supporting, engaging.” 

When dining at Cedar Crest, you can expect more chef specialties on redesigned menus, chances to meet the chefs themselves, and even a magazine created by Wang that features chef bios and photos. 

“Our chefs are really talented,” Wang says. By allowing the chefs to create menus and menu items, they have more autonomy and accountability, which yields a better, more consistent product. 

Innovation on the menu

Second, when redesigning menus—and even restaurants like the Village Café—Wang concentrates on quality over quantity. 

“We’re trying to build more destination-style, theme-style restaurants with high-quality, fresh ingredients; signature items; and an ambience that makes them feel like they’re eating at a nice restaurant every day,” Wang says.

In addition, Wang and his staff have added special evenings to the calendar, featuring fine dining and theme dinners, such as French Night, Flavors of Paradise, and Mangia Italia. Menus feature delicacies such as beef tenderloin and crispy shrimp cakes, sautéed foie gras, pan-seared scallops, and wine pairings. 

While not included in residents’ meal plans, residents can opt to participate in these four-course meals for an upcharge. 

Added flexibility 

Finally, Wang says, residents want more flexibility in their dining experience. For example, they want to eat at different times throughout the day or later than previous generations. They want more variety on the menu, such as gluten-free and vegetarian options. 

“The people moving in now want to be able to choose whatever they want,” Wang says. “And we need to be able to provide that choice.”

One change that took place across Erickson Living communities in 2012 was the addition of flexible meal plans to the traditional monthly meal plan. 

The monthly meal plan, which is still an option at all communities, includes one meal a day as part of a resident’s monthly service package. The flexible meal plan includes 20 meals a month and allows community members to use their meals for guests or to use two or more meals in one day.

On the horizon

People who live at Cedar Crest and those who are interested in moving there can expect to see subtle and not-so-subtle changes to the dining experience. 

Recently, Cedar Crest renovated and renamed its café, which offers one of the best burgers around and is the biggest hit of the community at the moment. 

In February, it opened a coffee bar, Belmont Beans, in the Belmont Clubhouse. Patrons can purchase artisan coffee drinks, homemade pastries, bagels, fresh fruit, and yogurt parfaits. Belmont Beans will begin serving healthy fresh fruit smoothies this season. 

Later this year, the bistro in Woodland Commons will transform into an authentic Italian eatery featuring brick oven pizza with healthy options and apartment delivery, an antipasto bar, and a gelato bar. 

And next year, the Oak Room Restaurant in the Belmont Clubhouse will receive a makeover to both its physical space and its menu. 

“The horizon is changing a lot,” says Wang. And it looks delicious. 

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