I’ve mentioned on several occasions the concern with food quality here at the facility, and the rather universally held dismay at what arises from the kitchen and is called ‘food’. I dwelt at some length on the disaster known as ‘prime rib’—and there have been several other occasions of similar response, including the great Pistachio Pudding Uprising of a couple of months ago.
Well, before I go any further, let me hasten to say that a room full of 80-year-olds who have little to think about BUT meals is at best a discerning audience. We make our way down the broad hallway to the dining hall, suspiciously sniffing the breeze and prepared to do battle, no matter what.
Our first quarrel is with the menu board. “I can’t read that!” snaps Irene, who sits at my table. “Neither can I,” echoes Trudy. “Why do they use a pale green magic marker?”
“It’s so we DON’T know what we’re getting,” someone else observes, and continues, “Even after we’ve eaten the meal, we may not know what we’ve had.”
Clearly the problem is easily solved: we convince the food server to use black ink on the menu white board. But that’s not the only problem with the 4@#$R% board: it LIES! Yesterday it called a cherry pie ‘apple’, and pea-and-peanut salad a ‘chef salad’. These are disastrous mistakes if you are 85 or so, and have been anticipating this meal since the minute you were last wheeled out of the dining hall. The kitchen credibility is ruined and the consumers are muttering something about ‘the cook doesn’t know what he’s cooking: he can’t tell an apple from a cherry.”
The menu is also duplicated at our places: we are to check off our choices and sign our names so that the plates will be accurate and the staff will know what we’ve eaten. (Talk about identity theft! They record our eating habits, our water-drinking, and our elimination, what time we go to bed and wake up and bathe.) At any rate, my meal companions study the menu with deep seriousness, commenting on the dietary balance: “Potatoes AND oatmeal for breakfast? Isn’t that a little starchy?” “Water melon? Who eats watermelon for breakfast? “ “Isn’t a 7-layer salad the one with all the mayonnaise? What food value is there in mayonnaise?”
And so it goes: Irene stares at the menu as if it is an evil ransom note demanding payment for the return of her firstborn, Trudy comments that the salads at Wendy’s are really much better because there isn’t so much ‘white lettuce’, and Marion and I both mutter that we could do a better job ourselves using our great grandmother’s recipes.
Now under these circumstances, Mario Batali (who has a summer home a few miles from here) couldn’t please everyone in this crowd. But there’s gotta be a villain in every story, and for this audience it’s the ‘chef’ in the basement who is madly concocting chili that’s too spicy (or too bland), lasagna that falls apart rather than hangs together in layered squares, and who squirts a lot of whipped cream on the apple pie so that we won’t know it’s really cherry.
Today, however, was different. Well, somewhat different. The dinner menu said we’d be served chicken Cacciatore (spelled phonetically), bowtie alfredo, and some salad and dessert. “What’s this chatatoori stuff?” “Is there dark meat?” “Who’d ever put cacciatore and alfredo in the SAME meal?”
Amazingly, the food was good! The chicken breast was moist, the sauce mildly spicy, and the alfredo creamy, if incongruous. Rumor spread quickly: “A new chef in the kitchen!” It’s true, said the management. The new hire showed up today to fill out paperwork prior to starting his job at Orchard Creek next week, saw that the facility was understaffed, due to the huge snowstorm last night, and stayed and cooked dinner out of the goodness of his heart.
So…management loves this guy. The diners are largely satisfied (though Clarence wants a peanut butter and jelly sandwich). Gleefully, we predict better things ahead, beginning next Tuesday when he actually comes on board.
“Well, maybe,” sniffs Irene. “We’ll see.”