Tribune Print Share Text

Full plate

Aida Blanco leads Charlestown’s dedicated culinary team who strive to make every meal outstanding

Created date

June 14th, 2018
Charlestown's Terrace Cafe is just one of several on-site dining venues at the Erickson Living community in Catonsville, Md.

Aida Blanco has been in or around the food service industry her entire life. Her father was a chef, her grandfather a restauranteur, and now she serves as director of dining services at Charlestown, where she leads a team of 425 who serve over 2,000 residents across seven restaurants.

“My goal is to make sure every dining experience is great,” says Blanco, who also oversees Charlestown’s busy catering department, a carryout delivery service for community members, and the dining venues in Charlestown’s continuing care health services neighborhood.

“There is a strong sense of teamwork and unity here at Charlestown. We work hard and strive to make sure that every meal and dining experience is perfect for our guests,” she says.

A fresh approach

Before joining Charlestown, an Erickson Living community in Catonsville, Md., Blanco graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. She honed her skills in the hospitality industry while working at a variety of hotels, including the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla., and as executive chef at FoodWorks, a community kitchen program at the Maryland Food Bank.

Most recently, Blanco served as director of dining services at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.V., where she was responsible for all aspects of campus dining operations, including multiple retail operations, concessions, catering, residential dining, and conference services.

“Charlestown is much different from any other place I have worked,” says Blanco. “The residents and employees I interact with every day, and the company’s philosophy and values make a tremendous difference in the culture here.”

Customer-driven

Although it can get tricky trying to satisfy the appetites of so many people, Blanco and her team work to ensure customer satisfaction by developing relationships with the people they serve.

“I visit the different restaurants and spend time with the staff and the residents. We hold quarterly menu focus groups where residents have an opportunity to give us direct feedback on the menus. And we invite residents to have coffee with our executive chefs and restaurant managers. They can ask questions, give their input on their dining experiences, share what they liked, and provide suggestions as well,” says Blanco.

The community also distributes an annual resident satisfaction survey that measures Charlestown’s improvement from year to year and how it compares to similar continuing care retirement communities in the United States, including other Erickson Living communities.

In their pursuit of providing an exceptional culinary experience, over the past year, Charlestown has introduced their new Signature Dining program, an all-new, cooked-to-order menu.

“Signature Dining focuses on cooking food from scratch,” says Blanco. “Everything is made in house and made fresh.”

What’s cooking

Featuring a selection of at least 25 items at a time, Charlestown’s menus combine familiar favorites and regional specialties, plus weekly chef specials and seasonal dishes.

Charlestown also offers diners easy ways to choose healthful foods through a program called Healthier Choice, which follows the USDA dietary guidelines for Americans and the American Heart Association’s recommendations with regard to the amount of fat, sodium, and sugar.

Smart Sweet, an alternative dessert program for people who want to avoid fat and sugar but still enjoy dessert after a meal, is also available.

Community members enjoy full access to nutritional information on the meals served in each of the seven restaurants on My Nutrition, an easy-to-use website that empowers residents to make informed food choices.

“We strive to provide the quality of dining that you would experience anywhere else you might go to eat,” says Blanco. “Whether you go to an independent restaurant outside of Charlestown or one of our restaurants, you can expect the same type of fresh, cooked-to-order food and great service. We continue to work hard to ensure that every resident’s experience is a good one.”


Watermelon Salsa

Aida Blanco’s favorite recipe (it’s a twist on a classic):

Ingredients

4 cups diced seedless watermelon

½ cup chopped cilantro

1/3 cup red onion, finely diced

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced

Juice of two limes

1 tbsp vegetable oil

½ tsp kosher salt

Directions

In a large bowl, combine the watermelon, red onion, cilantro, lime juice, jalapeno, oil, and salt. Toss to ensure that all flavors are mixed well and evenly throughout the salsa. Grab your favorite tortilla chips and enjoy!

Comments