By Matthew Solomon
When we think of heart healthy or wellness inspired food, we don’t think gourmet food. However, the reality is that the Sarasota community is taking the stereotype head on. At Aviva- A Campus for Senior Life, our chefs work behind the scenes to develop a menu providing residents with a dynamic experience.
To learn more about the process and how healthy food is going gourmet, we sat down with Aviva’s Executive Chef, Ignacio Suarez.
Q: Chef, can you tell us about your background and what brought you to Aviva?
I: As a classically trained chef I owned and operated my own restaurant in Miami for 8 years. During that time I was able to refine not only my culinary skills but more importantly my skills in customer service. What brought me to Aviva was the sense of community and the stability I could provide not only for myself but for my family as well. Specifically, I fell in love with Aviva’s sense of purpose, it isn’t just a community for people to live in but a place to grow and expand their horizons. That sense of adventure and craving for new experiences was so appealing that I knew that this is where I belonged.
Now, after 12 years, I know that this place is special and the residents who call it home are some of the most interesting and dynamic seniors in the area.
Q: As a community, Aviva is dedicated to providing healthy but also kosher cuisine. How do you give the residents a gourmet experience while keeping that community promise?
I: I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that these expectations are not a restriction. Yes, these expectations mean that we cannot use some of the classic ingredients that you may have come to expect. However, I have always found that this gives us such an incredible opportunity to get creative and push the envelope on what food can be.
When I first started at Aviva, I had the opportunity to work with a dietician to pick out certain ingredients that can really shine both from a culinary and health perspective. Every day the Aviva kitchens are bringing in fresh and local seafood, produce, herbs, and protein to serve that evening. From there we make everything from scratch, from our own stocks to our own marinades. We then take these house made elements and create dishes like roasted chicken topped with honey and balsamic vinegar glazed with blueberries or panko crusted pan seared Florida triple tail topped with a Dijon horseradish sauce.
Heart healthy can be intimidating especially for residents who are assigned the diet by a physician. What I’ve learned from my time at Aviva is that a heart healthy meal is simply something that is produced the cleanest way possible. Without chemicals, hormones, or other damaging elements the ingredient can really shine on its own.
Q: When you are designing the menu for residents what are some elements you focus on?
I: Our menus have to be a balance because we want every resident to feel comfortable. Some residents love the classics like brisket and spaghetti and meatballs because those are the recipes they used to make for their own families. We want to take these comfort foods and provide it for them in a way that is high-quality. To achieve that it really comes down to the herbs, spices, and fresh vegetables.
On the other hand we have residents who are looking for that adventurous experience. For them we add globally and locally inspired options to really create something unique. Our diverse culinary team takes elements of their own family recipes helping us connect with the residents through our passion for food.
At the end of the day the most important thing to me is consistency. I want to be able to promise our residents that no matter what they choose from the menu, it will be the same high quality experience, because we are not going to serve anything we aren’t proud of.
Q: As a member of Aviva, what has continued to motivate you and your team?
I: Members of our culinary team on average have been with Aviva for over 10 years, and we cook because we love providing an experience. When a resident shares with us they enjoyed dinner or they tried something new and loved it that is the best motivator. That singular moment is the best feeling in the world.
Q: If someone asked you to describe Aviva in one sentence what would it be?
I: We are a family, we care, we do the right thing, and we give 100% every day to make this community a home for everyone.
Aviva- A Campus for Senior Life is more than just a community, it is a lifestyle. As Sarasota’s premier senior rental community we want to invite you to experience the possibilities! Visit avivaseniorlife.org or call 941-225-8369 to schedule a tour.
Aviva- A Campus for Senior Life
1951 N. Honore Ave. | Sarasota, FL 34235
941.225.8369 | AvivaSeniorLife.org