The New Era of Aged Care Cuisine

Monday, December 12, 2016

Taking out the top title in the inaugural Senior Lifestyle Cuisine cooking competition was all in a day’s work for Rodney Phillips.

The chef who works at Oceania Healthcare’s Elderslea Rest Home in Upper Hutt has been on a quest for some time now to improve cuisine in the aged care sector.

In recent years, food served at rest homes has come increasingly under scrutiny, with a call for wide scale improvements to be made. This can only intensify, as New Zealand prepares itself for a sizable growth in retirement villages over the coming years. Government statisticians are projecting an increase in those aged 65 years and over to reach the 1 million mark in the late 2020s at which point this group will outnumber children.1 Demand for experienced chefs and top notch cuisine will continue to grow, driven by the increasingly sophisticated palate of those entering aged care.

For Rodney, the focus on cuisine for seniors began to take shape over 16 years ago.

It was at that time when he decided to make a career change and train as a chef, after agreeing to help out a friend who was catering at an event.

“The energy involved in catering for that wedding was completely full on work wise but a whole lot of laughs. After that I was hooked and there was no turning back.”

From an early age which included watching Hudson and Halls and cooking lunch for his mother, Rodney said he has always been interested in food.

“Making the transition to chef was an easy one that just came naturally.”

While studying at the Wanganui Polytech he worked in his spare time for a catering company. A work experience opportunity at the Rutland Arms – an English-style pub - introduced him to a whole new way of cooking. Rodney was able to work alongside some very talented chefs who had been working the ‘front-line’ for many years.

“I gained a lot from that experience and after finishing my training went on to work at the Rutland for a few years.”

After learning all that he could there, Rodney decided it was time to move on to a more challenging role. A day of job hunting in Wellington led to him securing a highly sought after position of Head Chef at The Realm Restaurant and Bar. Subsequent job offers saw him working at various cafes and restaurants including Chow and the highly regarded Reka Café in Lower Hutt.

His entry into the aged care sector was spurred on by Rodney’s increasing frustration at being unable to spend time with his two daughters, particularly over weekends.

“An advertisement on TradeMe caught my attention as it said it could offer a work/life balance and weekends off.”

Three interviews later and Rodney was offered the job at Elderslea Rest Home.

“The experience has been immensely rewarding in many ways. Not only do we now have a team that is fully committed to leading the way, in terms of senior cuisine, the gratitude from residents is quite touching.”

Rodney said foods can spark many memories for older people.

“Instead of just serving up a great dish to a paying customer, we’re reigniting thoughts and feelings, and a deep sense of satisfaction amongst the residents.”

He said much of the criticism that has focused on food provided in the sector was well founded.

“Often people had no formal training and there was a lot of general dissatisfaction amongst staff and residents. A lot of that has changed now with the job offering a diverse and challenging range of opportunities from understanding nutrition for the elderly through to more structured training programmes.”

For Rodney who has been passionate about training and competing at culinary events for the past 16 years spreading the word about the new era of cuisine for the elderly is his latest ambition.

“It’s all about creativity, nutrition, texture, understanding your customers and then taking things to a whole new level. These are really exciting times for the industry and I’m pleased to be at the forefront of a better way of doing things.”



Name of Dish: Spiced and Crumbed Chicken Thigh, with a Fried Potato Croquette, Carrot Puree and Buttered Broccoli, with Thyme Infused Gravy on the side.

Portions x6 (3 main- 3 soft diet)

8 x                 Chicken Thigh
2 Cups           Instant Mash (Nestlé)
375mls          Carnation Milk (Nestlé)
2tbs               Crushed Garlic
5g                  Thyme
50g                Golden Roast Gravy Mix (Nestlé)
2 x                 Sliced Bread
10g                Salt/Pepper Spice Blend
20g                Walnuts
100g              Butter 1 x Lemon
10g                Parsley
800g              Carrots
20g                Brown Sugar
2 x                 Broccoli
100g              Brown Onion
Cost              $3.58 per dish


- Marinate Chicken Thigh Overnight in Carnation Milk and a few sprigs of thyme.
- Prep and cook carrots in boiling water with 10g of butter and a few sprigs of thyme.
- Dice Onion and Garlic and sweet off till soft and make the instant mash.
- Shape into bars and lay on baking paper and bake for 30min. Save extea Mash for softs.
- Chop Parsley and add chopped Walnuts and oil, grated lemon zest and seasoning and mix.
- Finely dice bread crumbs and saute in butter till well coated but not coloured, stir in spice mix and set aside.
- Lay Thighs on baking paper and coat with parsley paste. And top with crumb mix.
- Bake for 20ish minutes or till cooked.
- Cook Broccoli in boiling water with 50g of butter, puree carrots, and adjust. Set aside. Puree Broccoli and set aside.
- With the saved carrot water mix a little water with the Gravy powder and add to the boiling carrot water and whisk, adjust and add butter if necessary.
- Remove croquettes from the oven and fry in a little oil and butter over a medium controlled heat, till golden on all sides.
- Check Chicken and start plating.