A few years ago, Peter Morgan-Jones walked away from life as a head chef to transform the food culture at HammondCare's aged and dementia care facilities. The question is, why?
We spoke to Peter, who is now HammondCare's Executive Chef and Food Ambassador, about why improving the food culture of aged care is so important, how it can be done, and an exciting project he has coming up.
Peter Morgan-Jones already had an impressive reputation as a chef when word reached him that HammondCare was looking for a food ambassador and executive chef. He had just spent a few years as Head Chef at the Art Gallery of NSW, and has cooked for the Royal family and at various top restaurants in London and Sydney.
But in the last couple of years, Peter has moved from the high-profile (and seemingly glamorous) life of a head chef, to working in aged and dementia care. What on earth would spark such a transition?
Well, as Peter says, he was motivated by the desire to “give something back; to feed people in need, rather than feeding egos in restaurants.”
"I've worked in restaurants and hotels and have been able to share the joy of a pleasurable meal. But what sold me on my new role is the care factor," Peter said. "To be able to use my food knowledge and love of cooking to improve the quality of life of older people is an amazing opportunity.”
A whole new world
That’s not to say that there haven’t been fears and doubts along the way. Peter tells the story of visiting a high-care facility in his first week as HammondCare’s Executive Chef and Food Ambassador – possibly the most challenging introduction to the world of dementia and aged care.
“I thought I had made a terrible mistake at first,” he says. “I didn’t know if I could deal with it. Then the manager at the time asked me to feed one of the residents. So I was feeding this gentleman and was looking into his eyes, and he was looking at me. And I had a kind of epiphany. I realised how important this job was. I was hooked after that.”
Innovation in food
There are a number of particular challenges in providing fresh, quality and nutritious food to people in aged care. In particular, encouraging people with dementia to eat well and regularly can be difficult.
This is why it is so important that HammondCare’s food culture is always innovative and care-centred. Peter believes that great food can be hugely powerful for people with dementia and with other high-care needs. Not only is good and appealing food important for our residents and patients’ nutrition, it is also a potential source of pleasure.
“There was one pivotal catalyst for me in looking for change and seeing the power that innovative food can have in this area. A gentlemen in Woy Woy had early stages dementia and a restricted oesophagus, which meant he could really only eat pureed food. He was craving baked beans, bacon and eggs, because he had been on purees for 18 months. He really wanted this particular food.
“So using my restaurant background I thought there has got to be a way we can make that happen in a way that is safe for this man to eat. So I made some really nice, homemade Boston baked beans in a puree batter, then made scrambled eggs, which I then pureed. Then I made some crispy bacon, ground that into dust and served that separately.
“We were able to meet those flavour cravings that he had, but also provide a real, nutritious meal in a way that he could safely eat.
“He was overjoyed. Just a simple little thing that we could do, but that got my brain thinking about how we can utilise that experience, and what else we can do in line with that idea.”
A dementia-specific cookbook
We’re sure you’ll be happy to hear that this particular baked beans, eggs and bacon recipe can be found in Peter’s upcoming cookbook, which will be published by HammondCare.
This cookbook will feature recipes designed specifically for people with dementia who have particular needs, such as pureed food. Peter has many more exciting and unique ideas like this that marry good nutrition, great taste and appealing presentation.
“There is a real need for improvements in aged care – in presentation, and in quality of food for people on a modified diet,” Peter says. And this isn’t just true in aged care homes and facilities. This book will also be for at-home carers who struggle to feed their loved one.
There is still a lot of work to be done to ensure everyone in aged care has access to great quality, fresh food. But with Peter Morgan-Jones’ help, we’ve come a long way. All menus in our facilities have been redesigned, and continue to be expanded. Choice in food has increased for residents, and we have provided better training for carers in providing and preparing food. With Peter’s help, we will continue to build on these goals in the coming years.
- If you would like to help ensure that everyone under our care has access to great, fresh food, please donate to the Braeside Fresh Food Kitchen appeal.