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‘Cooking to taste’

Oak Crest’s Signature Dining enhances flavor and culinary career opportunities

Created date

July 31st, 2017
Jeanna Deugwillo, a line cook at Oak Crest, makes delicious meals as part of the community’s new Signature Dining initiative.

Jeanna Deugwillo, a line cook at Oak Crest, makes delicious meals as part of the community’s new Signature Dining initiative.

As she stir-fries a Thai scallop and shrimp dish over a bright, searing flame, Jeanna Deugwillo says with a smile, “Serving our residents is the best part of my job. That is what it’s all about.”

Deugwillo is a line cook at Oak Crest, the Erickson Living community in Parkville, Md. While attending nearby Perry Hall High School 12 years ago, she began working as a student server in one of the five restaurants located at the 87-acre campus. She was even awarded a collegiate scholarship through the resident-supported Scholars’ Fund.

Now Jeanna is honing her culinary skills in the large kitchen located adjacent to Oak Crest’s Fireside Restaurant, cooking fresh meals for community members as part of Oak Crest’s Signature Dining initiative. Every day, residents enjoy a restaurant experience with an emphasis on all-new, cooked-to-order menus.  

Fresh approach to cooking and dining

For Jill Clippinger, director of dining services at Oak Crest, the reward is more than just seeing delicious dinners made.

“Developing the talents of our employees is a great feeling. It pays off when you see professionals like Jeanna who are passionate about our mission and embrace exciting new concepts such as Signature Dining,” says Clippinger, who began her employment at Oak Crest in 2003 as a restaurant manager.

Signature Dining has been an Erickson Living-wide move away from traditional batch cooking.

“The concept challenged us to reconfigure operations as well as refine our abilities. Cooking to taste means cooking for the individual, not for 50 people. It means refined time management and learning new recipes,” says Clippinger.

The results have been impressive. 

“Our variety has improved. The daily menu includes three weekly specials and a fresh seafood catch. Overall, 15% of the menu changes monthly and 45% on a quarterly basis,” says Clippinger. “The residents like the expanded selections and fresh taste. As a team, our kitchen skills have sharpened, which makes it exciting for our chefs, line cooks, and prep team.”

Deugwillo proudly declares her own career goal. “One day, I’d like to manage the kitchen. I feel my career path is taking me in the right direction,” she says.

“We provide extensive training, create annual goals, and partner with employees to write their individual development plans,” says Clippinger. “Together, these tools can lead to advancement and set the stage for a tremendous culinary career.”

Vested interest

As a member of the Oak Crest Resident Advisory Council (RAC), Bill Hodges had an opportunity to see firsthand exactly what goes on behind the scenes in the kitchens of two Oak Crest restaurants during nightly meal prep for the community’s 2,000-plus residents.

“It’s amazing what they do and how they do it,” says Bill. “Preparing quality food in a timely manner is not easy, and the dining staff does a really good job of it.” 

Bill serves on the Oak Crest dining committee, an advisory board comprised of Oak Crest community members and representatives from the dining services department and an arm of the RAC. The group of nine RAC members, elected by their fellow neighbors, serves as a voice for residents regarding their comfort, safety, and satisfaction, much like local community associations across the country. 

Bill says Oak Crest management is responsive to community members’ requests and comments as they continuously strive to be at the top of their game. The on-going partnership between the residents and the dining department has been fruitful.  

“When they rolled out the Signature Dining program, there were a few kinks in the beginning, but they quickly made adjustments,” says Bill. “I go to all the dining rooms and talk to people, and now I think it’s winning people over.” 

Retired dietitian Josephine Chen also serves on the Oak Crest dining committee and says the dining staff is well trained, courteous, and eager to please. 

Having lived at the community for the last 11 years, she says one of the biggest challenges to living in the community is to not overeat. 

“With so many food choices available, including dessert with every meal, it’s easy to gain weight,” says Josephine. “You have to make up your mind as to what you’re going to eat and what you’re not going to eat. A good way to do that is to share a dessert, split it three ways with other people at the table, and substitute the rest with fresh fruit.”