Tribune Print Share Text

Appetite for adventure

Fun, new dining program features cuisine from around the world

Created date

August 20th, 2014
chefs working

If variety is the spice of life, then dining at Crest is the ultimate gastronomical adventure. Thanks to a collaborative effort between the residents and the dining services department, hundreds of delicious, healthy food choices are always available at the Parkville, Md., community’s four on-site restaurants.  

“My goal is simple: make every dining experience at Oak Crest delightful!” says David Colacicco, director of dining services. “We serve 2,500 meals a day in our restaurants. Pleasing our residents is my main objective.” 

Recipe for success

In an effort to keep things fresh and make the dining experience at Oak Crest fun, Colacicco has introduced monthly theme dinners. Whether it’s crawfish gumbo during Mardi Gras, fruits de mer crêpes for Bastille Day, or pot stickers on Chinese New Year, residents can experience cuisine from around the world without ever leaving home.

“Both the staff and residents have really embraced the different themes,” says Colacicco. “During our Texas barbecue, we dressed in western-style plaid shirts, blue jeans, and cowboy boots and hats. During our Mediterranean cruise-themed dinner, some of our residents dressed in formal wear as if they were attending a captain’s dinner aboard a ship. We even had one man wear a captain’s uniform.”

The lounges outside the restaurants set the tone for each dinner with themed music and complimentary beverages and appetizers before guests are seated for dinner. The themed dinners coincide with a larger community-wide initiative at Oak Crest to celebrate cultural diversity and inclusion.

“Here at Oak Crest, we are focused on learning about different cultures so that we can work and live together with an appreciation of all our backgrounds,” says Associate Executive Director Mark Roussey. “This July, we held our annual Diversity Expo, which focused on the ‘Five Senses of Diversity’—music, art, heritage, religion, and food.” 

In addition to the themed dinner events, a guest-chef program was also introduced earlier this year.

“Our first guest chef was Tessie San Juan, one of our catering servers who prepared her signature Filipino dish of pancit and fried plantains,” says Colacicco. “Pancit is a common and popular dish in the Philippines. It is a combination of rice noodles, chicken, shrimp, and Asian spices. We received so many positive comments the night it was offered that Executive Chef Joe Bollinger, working with Tessie, created a recipe that is now part of our regular menu, as well as available to all Erickson Living communities.”

High marks, healthy eats

Josie Chen is the dining representative for Oak Crest’s Resident Advisory Council (RAC) and serves as a liaison between community members and Colacicco and Bollinger. The three meet twice monthly to discuss residents’ concerns and comments. 

“David is always very approachable, responsive, open to suggestions, and eager to please,” says Josie. “He visits all of the restaurants daily and greets the diners at the tables to make sure everyone is happy. We all realize you can’t please everyone all the time. But there are so many choices on the menus at Oak Crest, you really can’t go home hungry.”

As a registered dietitian, Josie gives the dining at Oak Crest high marks when it comes to healthy choices but warns a little common sense goes a long way.

“In my career, I worked in a hospital for over 20 years, and then I had my own private practice for weight control and diabetes,” says Josie. “The biggest challenge I find living here at Oak Crest is overeating. 

“With so many choices available, including dessert at every meal, it’s easy to gain weight. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy dessert. The key is to not eat the whole thing. A good way to do that is to share a dessert—split it three ways with other people at the table and then fill up instead on fresh fruit. I’ve been here for eight years, and I haven’t gained any weight. You just have to make up your mind as to what you’re going to eat and what you’re not going to eat and stick to it.”

So what’s cooking at Oak Crest this fall? Colacicco says they’ve got a variety of fun, themed dinners planned, including a seafood festival, a taste of Baltimore’s Little Italy, Oktoberfest, and a world of holiday celebrations featuring foods from Kwanzaa, Jewish, Christian, Indian, and Muslim traditions.