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Greg Gorgone is the VP of Educational Development at Pineapple Academy, a training solutions company focused on building a framework to create a culinary culture that engages food service staff in senior living spaces.

We had the opportunity virtually meet with Greg to discuss culinary culture in senior living, the value of partnering with Incite and how COVID-19 has affected the food service sector in senior living.

What does the phrase “culinary culture” mean to you?

Food is what brings us all together When you do a great job on the food, people come together, and you get a culture that’s happy and fulfills people’s needs. I grew up in an Italian household. When I grew up, you walked into a feast of food – we were there all day, having conversations, having fun. Everything revolved around food.

Why should senior living communities invest in advancing their food service culture?

Put yourself in the shoes of the resident. Realize that this is their home now and I’m going into their home and I have to make them meals three times a day. Many of these residents don’t have access to a full size kitchen or have the ability to cook for themselves and they have to eat with people they don’t know. If you want to build a community, you need to have a culinary culture that creates conversations and connects everybody.

In the healthcare world, particularly acute care and skilled nursing, everything was originally set up around a clinical platform and had nothing to do with flavor, taste or presentation. All they’re looking at it Is numbers – it’s a formula – they need to have this many calories, vitamins, etc. When clinical people try to design a menu, it doesn’t work. It’s like if me as a chef tries to design your medical plan.

Plus, the needs of seniors today are different than they were just 20 years ago. Today’s residents are not going to put up with lousy food. Everyone’s a foodie now and the standards have changed dramatically.

How does Pineapple Academy support senior living communities?

We bring awareness to food service culture. We’re just trying to get owners and operators to see that something can be done to improve it and it’s what’s needed. These training programs are important not just to help your existing staff but also to recruit new staff and decrease turnover.

If you want to hire young people to work at your community, they aren’t going to work somewhere someone is going to treat them poorly. They want to be part of a bigger picture. They’re much more aware of the world. They want training and they want to be educated and trained and work at a place that appreciates what they’re doing.

We can help owners by creating opportunity for people who want to learn. I don’t know people who work in kitchens who aren’t interested in learning more. I believe that in the kitchen, there’s nothing you couldn’t or shouldn’t know about. In terms of food service itself, there’s nothing you shouldn’t know regardless of your position in the place. If you’re a dishwater and you want to learn how to be a chef, you can go on and watch the training programs and hopefully progress. 

What is the value in partnering with Incite Strategic Partners?  

We’re very aligned in our philosophies in what we’re trying to do with the customer. Together, we’re here to solve their problems.  Incite does this by presenting to their clients different vendors, supplies and technologies that offer a true ROI (Return on Investment) Our goal is to provide value to the client by helping them reduce their turn-over rate while at the same time improve the food and service they provide to their residents.

That’s a big deal to us. We don’t work with people who don’t think like that. We both want to create great cultures for our seniors. That was the first thing that aligned for us.

How has COVID-19 affected food service in senior living?

Covid-19 has had an impact on training in senior living as it is more difficult to travel and outsiders are not allowed on campus.  At the same time, standards are as important as ever, so training and re-training has to be re-invented.

I think we will see a lot of changes with the protocols at senior living communities with masks, gloves and sanitation procedures. You’re going to see a reduction of touch points, more separation of dirty and clean. One person will serve and someone else will clean. The dining room staff will stay in the dining room and only touch clean stuff.

Technology will become much more prevalent. Many communities are still using manual systems today for taking orders. Things will have to go more paperless for better documentation. The regulatory compliance issues are going to be huge.

It’s all going to go electronic by next year. We’re going to advance technologically in one year what would have taken 10-15 years before coronavirus happened.