Cooperation and Imagination Lead to First Place Culinary Competition Finish for UCH

Sous Chef Alex Brown and Chef Ashley Warren open the mystery box of ingredients.

This story by Jen Winchester shows one way United Church Homes took one of the disadvantages created by the pandemic and created something wonderful. It is reprinted with permission from the Spring 2021 issue of Spirit magazine.

The dining teams across United Church Homes’ communities are known for their delicious dishes. When dining rooms closed due to COVID-19, both diners and chefs missed this engaging part of their day.

This spring, Ohio Health Care Association teamed up with Gordon Food Service and Sandridge Food Corporation to host a culinary competition. The UCH chefs across the communities saw an opportunity to have some fun and show off their culinary creativity. Only one community from each senior living organization in Ohio could enter the contest so Ashley Warren, chef and director of dining services for Trinity Community at Beavercreek (Ohio), entered her community to represent United Church Homes.

Amy Kotterman, director of customer experience, wanted to make this a collaborative effort showcasing the talents of many UCH dining directors. To accomplish this, she held several virtual meetings where culinary teams brainstormed unique and unexpected recipes and connected.

Brown and Warren accept the first place award from Wes Woodcock (center) of Gordon Food Service.

“We’ve all missed our day-to-day interactions and special events during this past year, so getting the chance to work with my fellow chefs was just what we needed,” said Warren.

Much like Food Network’s “Chopped” show, Warren and Sous Chef Alex Brown received a mystery box of ingredients and were tasked with creating dishes using every item. “We didn’t just want to incorporate the mystery box ingredients in a traditional sense,” Warren said. “We wanted to transform them into something completely different.”

“Chef Tim England, Pilgrim Manor, helped develop [an] arancini recipe,” Warren added. “We received a prepared roasted red pepper pasta with a bit too much heat, so his idea was to puree it and pair it with mozzarella, brown rice, breadcrumbs, and marinara. That helped make a creative dish that would be palatable to more residents.”

“I think the big winner was the Pot Roast Burger,” she said. “We included the prepared pot roast but transformed it into something ridiculously decadent with caramelized onions, bacon, fontina cheese, and house-made aioli on a brioche bun.”

All of the dishes received rave reviews.

Warren said that the “most challenging ingredient was the Asian Noodle dish. After some trial and error, we ended up rinsing off the premade dressing, and my partner, Sous Chef Alex, created a new fresh flavor combination with orange juice and toasted sesame oil.” One of the judges ate the entire dish as presented, she added – edible flower garnish and all!

In the end, 30 competitors faced off, comprising a strong field. Thanks to the UCH chefs’ ingenuity and expertise, Trinity Community at Beavercreek took first place.

“Dining experiences matter for our residents, far beyond just nutrition. It’s been different this year, as most of our meals were served to the residents in their homes and likely on disposable plates,” Kotterman said. “This event was an opportunity to create excitement around food, and I look forward to seeing how communities adapt these recipes for our residents.”

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