Concordia Chef Face-Off

Chef Competition Shows Seniors How to Stay Healthy and Creative with Inventive Dishes

By JaNae Williams | The Oklahoman | July 30, 2023 | See Full Article Here

Pink lemonade cotton candy in an appetizer? Funyuns in a dessert? If this sounds like something out of an episode of a certain cooking competition show to you, you’re not too far off.

Concordia Life Plan Community, 7707 W Britton Road, takes keeping food fun and improving senior health seriously. The retirement community hosted a cooking competition featuring chef Darin Leonardson, who is a culinary adviser at the center, and celebrity chef Stephan Baity, who has competed on The Food Network multiple times.

“People get so caught up in the hype of me and TV, doing the Olympics and just all of the other great accolades I have in my career, but they don’t realize that my first job for nine years out of culinary school was working in a [retirement community] like this. It was literally how I cut my teeth,” Baity said. “This meant so much. This is personal.”

Surprise ingredients, suprisingly delicious outcomes
The two chefs competed in two rounds of competition, making appetizers with cheese, mushrooms and pink lemonade cotton candy and desserts featuring mixed berries, pound cake and Funyuns.

“That was a hard one, I didn’t see that coming,” Baity said of the dessert round whammy.

Leonardson echoed his lament calling onion and berries a “weird combination.”

Still, both chefs rose to the occasion, turning out incredible and inventive dishes in each round. In the end, Baity pulled off the win by just one point.“To come right underneath a super talented person like that, makes me happy and proud,” Leonardson said.

Why did Concordia host a Chef Face-Off?
Hosting a cooking competition between their culinary adviser and a celebrity chef isn’t something you’re likely to see happening at most retirement communities. But then most retirement communities probably don’t have executive directors willing to dress up like Guy Fieri to emcee the competition either.

“Concordia is all about the residents — what is it that they want, what is it they desire — they’re always wanting innovation,” Leonardson said.

The Chef Face-Off allowed the center to bring some one-of-a-kind entertainment to residents while highlighting easy, creative and flavorful food and cooking options.

Chefs used burners and a special smart oven called the Brava that Concordia is set to start offering residents to allow greater freedom and independence in cooking for themselves.

Healthy eating for senior citizens
Leonardson said seniors are generally willing to try new things, but there are some adjustments that can be made to help accommodate health requirements and the way taste buds change as we age.

Finishing a meal with a sprinkling of sea salt instead of adding salt to the entire dish can reduce the amount of salt used overall. And focusing on other flavor profiles such as sour, bitter, spicy or trying flavor combinations may increase appeal, he said.

Christopher Coleman, Concordia’s wellness coordinator, said that for senior citizens, it is also important to look at the whole picture and how diet integrates into an overall healthy lifestyle. For many seniors the goal is to maintain or even build muscle and fueling their bodies properly is a key part of the equation.

“I want you to feel empowered. I want you to feel energetic. Having people to care about what they put in their bodies directly correlates to the performance,” Coleman said.

A key part of consuming the right diet comes down to having access to the right foods. Concordia works to address these kinds of issues through its dining program and Leonardson’s partnership with the staff in charge of the dining program looks to overcome gaps in nutrition common for many aging adults.

“When you’re getting older, there’s a lot of nutrients and vitamins and things like that that you’re going to be missing out on just from the simple fact that your diet is limited,” Coleman said. “You start to just do what you’re used to or you eat out — like some people eat out a lot when they don’t live in a community like this — and so you’re really not getting a variety of nutrients, and it’s not nutrient dense; they’re not functional foods.”

Leonardson said senior living overall is a space that needs more chefs, especially as baby boomers age into retirement communities.

“It’s an industry that’s growing with baby boomers, they need creative talents. We need people who are creative with food. This industry needs to change even more,” he said.