Meal Time at Heartis Suwanee is About Far More Than Food
Evening meal times at Heartis Suwanee bring an air of excitement as Robert Adamo circles the kitchen and dining room with a zest that would prompt the Oompa-Loompas to dance, and his team is right in step with him.
Hey, why not?
Adamo, the Executive Chef and Dining Services Director, believes that every day in this community is reason to celebrate – and that’s just what he intends to do.
In an era when fast-food restaurants punctuate nearly every block and “delicious” can be difficult to come by, it may seem surprising that a chef would be bold enough to compare his menu to a five-star restaurant.
Yet that’s just what Adamo does… and with good reason.
Having taken the reins when the community first opened in November 2018, career-chef Adamo was excited to be the first to lay claim on the kitchen. After all, it allowed him to make it his own, to do it right from the beginning, and to hire a staff that met his high standards.
Fortunately for those living here, that’s just what he’s done.
“It is important to me to keep putting smiles on the residents’ faces, with food as the means to do so,” Adamo explained. “Seniors are often neglected. Yet meals are the highlight of their day. Meal periods are really big. Meals can make or break a person’s time here.”
With this in mind, he elaborated, “It has been my goal to change the image of eating in senior communities. I want to create a restaurant-quality atmosphere. I want to make it special for them (the residents).”
Based on resident feedback, he has been successful. Seniors at the Heartis Suwanee community take their time finishing meals. They linger. They chat. They push tables together to be closer to one another.
And the staff strives to nurture that environment. They’ve taken care, for instance, to recognize that Bill and Mary want their milk and Diet Coke right before the entrée is served. Not too soon, or it won’t be touched. Not too late, or the couple grows frustrated.
The kitchen staff knows who wants to eat alone and who prefers company, and they also try to memorize each resident’s preferences.
This, Adamo points out, is critical to creating the family atmosphere he holds in high regard. As are having a variety of meal options.
While the kitchen team forms meals around a given menu, it’s clear that they are free to make tweaks when it would please the residents. “I get bored really easy, so I challenge my team to come up with new meal ideas. I’m having a unique opportunity to gear the menu to my residents, and I’m okay to experiment,” Adamo said.
Which raises the question: Just how much experimenting does this culinary expert encourage? (Secretly, I’m picturing stewed cow’s feet or cream-laced tuna eyeballs).
Adamo chuckles. “Well, there’s no frozen Stouffer’s lasagna to just heat up… but seniors aren’t as courageous eaters as younger people. It takes more convincing. You’ve kind of gotta simplify things and not make it too complicated.”
So although he’s working in a scratch kitchen, his version of experimentation usually takes the path of least resistance. Fresh produce sprinkled with garden-sprung herbs. Chicken wings paired with orange juice. Home-cooked meals reminiscent of childhood. And so it goes…
Speaking of childhood, I wondered aloud whether this passion for the culinary arts stemmed from his adolescence or if it was borne in adulthood. Without skipping a beat, he quipped, “Childhood. One of my biggest inspirations is my mom, without a doubt. My mom used to cook incredible things. Her cooking was amazing. We sat down and had dinner together as a family or we’d be in trouble.”
It’s no wonder, then, that this emphasis on homestyle cooking and a family ambience permeates the dining hall. After all, it’s difficult to negate the power of an influential mom who inspired a lifelong career choice. And for that, everyone at Heartis is grateful.