In a private, candlelit corner overlooking a bushland valley in the NSW Blue Mountains, a couple celebrate their wedding anniversary with a personalised, three-course dinner prepared by a hatted chef.
It looks like a restaurant, but the delicious meal is part of the new approach to food at Catholic Healthcare’s Bodington Residential Aged Care Home at Wentworth Falls.
Austrian-born restaurateur Matthias Larcher, Catholic Healthcare’s Hotel and Support Services Manager, is the main inspirer and innovator of the program, which offers healthy and comforting home favourites on the daily menu and opportunities to celebrate life with restaurant-style meals. Mr Larcher knows a lot about great food. He worked in top-notch hotels locally and around the world, and ran a series of award-winning restaurants in Sydney, before taking a break to become a full-time carer for his wife.
He then decided he “wanted to do something good” and joined Catholic Healthcare.
“Aged care is not that different to what we do in hotel and restaurants,” he says. But there is a strong focus on nutrition, health and wellbeing, with an accredited dietician approving all seasonally developed menus. Food is the highlight of a resident’s day, and should always be celebrated.
Although there is careful guidance from Mr Larcher at Head Office, the final menus are “tailored on site” at the aged-care homes with input from the residents and their families.
“Our chefs aim to cater to the needs and tastes of our residents which has a positive impact on their mood; even for those residents who were previously disinterested in mealtimes,” he says.
This is where Bodington’s Head Chef, Julie McMahon, steps in.
She’s a hatted restaurant chef who ran her own successful catering business for 15 years. But when she started at the Residential Aged Care Home, she took a step back and worked as a cook in the kitchen.
“I came in wanting to know everything before I took on the chef’s role, so I started cooking in the servery to gauge the residents’ reaction and see what they liked,” she says.
Now she offers a variety of dishes “that were favourites with the residents before they came to Bodington”.
She has also introduced special anniversary meals and delights residents with much-enjoyed Restaurant Days, which 82-year-old Deidre describes as “fabulous”.
“I’m a cook by trade, and Julie does a really good job,” Deidre says. “Every three or four weeks we have a special dinner and we get to choose what we want, and Julie cooks it. My favourites are the crumbed cutlets and eye fillet.”
The appeal of the Restaurant Days lies in the presentation, Julie says. “I cook it in front of the residents so they can see it and smell it, and I set up it up like a restaurant with candles and flowers on the table. It’s really pretty.”
There’s also a strong focus on making everything from scratch, using ingredients from Bodington’s new herb garden and buying locally as much as possible.
“We buy apples from the mountain orchards at Bilpin. These would go into a home-made apple tart,” Julie says. “We also make ice cream for special occasions – a favourite is banana-peanut and toffee – and we’ve started to do mousses with sliced mango and Chantilly cream as we come into summer.”
The only downside to the new menu is that it’s just a little too good, says 91-year-old John, who jokingly complains his wife, Bernice, is “putting on the weight”.
“It’s not the same old thing every day. I do have a favourite – the bacon and eggs on a Friday morning. All the fellas love it!”
“The changes have contributed significantly to the health and well-being of the residents, not just physically, but mentally too, because it makes them feel more at home,” Julie says.
“We keep it all tasty and down-to-earth,” she says. “Food is such an important part of their lives at Bodington.”