July is culinary arts month and while the culinary experience is integral to the lives of our residents every day, we felt it was the perfect time to interview Chef Matthew Ventura. Chef Matthew has been working in senior living for over five years and before that he had the pleasure of working for the Food Network with chefs such as Bobby Flay, Marcus Samuelson, and Alex Guarnachelli. We sat down with him after a busy lunch service to delve into his cultural influences.
We understand that growing up with your grandmother influenced your experience with food. What kind of food did she cook?
I was born outside of Manila and my Filipino heritage is very important to me. My grandmother cooked Filipino comfort foods like chicken adobo, sisig, etc. Most dishes included rice and then whatever vegetable and protein she could get for the day.
Did she teach you specific dishes that you continue to cook today? What did she teach you about cooking?
She taught me how to cook the fundamentals of Filipino cooking and taught me to be resourceful in the kitchen. I am a big believer in using everything I can’t stand - wasting food. Most of my cooking has been influenced by the women in my family – my mother and aunts also play an important role in my cooking. The interesting thing about Filipino food is that the same dish can be made in multiple ways. There’s no wrong way to cook a dish!
Working for Food Network must have taught you a lot about the presentation of food. What did you learn from that? What tips from that experience do you bring to your role at Inspīr?
I was a Food Production Assistant at the Food Network.. My role was to prepare the food in different stages so the chef could tape their show on time. The job taught me to be extremely organized and disciplined in the kitchen. You had to be at work early and make sure you knew exactly what you were doing and how each dish needed to look for the show. One of the biggest rules I follow is that you eat with your eyes first and I take that from The Food Network. At the end of the day, I want to make sure that the food looks amazing so the residents will enjoy the dish. Presentation is so important and everything on the plate should be edible! Even the flowers! Plates should be colorful and not overcrowded. You want different textures to stand out on the plate.
What has been the most rewarding part of working at Inspīr?
At Inspīr I quickly adapted my recipes the various diets of our residents and it has been rewarding to create dishes that look and taste good but also adhere to each of their guidelines. My kitchen provides residents with a wide arrange meals that don’t limit their culinary choices.
I think that when someone hears that they have to have a different diet than what they’re used to – thickened liquids, chopped, pureed; they automatically think their choices are very slim. So, it’s rewarding to know that I can still provide a person with high-end food that they can enjoy safely.
Do you have top “sellers” that residents look forward to?
My three best-sellers are:
- Chicken adobo – This is a Filipino dish where chicken is cooked with soy sauce and vinegar, lots of garlic and bay leaves, and whole peppercorns. Served hot over rice.
- Moussaka – A layered Greek dish that has eggplant with ground beef and béchamel sauce.
- Bruschetta – chopped tomatoes with mozzarella cheese and red onion on top of a toasted baguette.
Do residents ask for any special requests – anything surprising or needing a little education i.e. a traditional family recipe?
A lot of residents love liver and onions. Sometimes it's fried chicken and sometimes it’s just a good quality steak. Our residents have a diversified palate so it’s fun to get new requests. We discuss their preferences – especially for steaks - and make sure we flavor to their liking. The team is dedicated to listening carefully and creating the perfect result. Seeing their delight in getting just what they expected makes the job truly satisfying.
What do you find inspiring about the culinary arts – why is it important in the lives of people?
The culinary arts bring joy to different people. Food brings back memories or experiences and around the world – it’s a way that people continue their culture. Food around the world can bring people together. One of my favorite shows is Top Chef. The current season is set in London and it’s so interesting to me to see how different cultures have similar dishes or styles but they each put their own spin on it.
At Inspīr Carnegie Hill we offer dining in ONYX Bistro on the 17th floor. Here casual dining meets refinement for both lunch and dinner. On the ground floor, 1802, our formal restaurant offers fine dining for breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as Sunday brunch. Both venues feature seasonal dishes with locally soured ingredients.