Imagine preparing lunch for your family every day, if your family consisted of hundreds. The Bella Vida senior center does just that, serving lunch to hundreds of seniors every weekday.
“On a typical day, we prepare about 650 meals … for seniors in our community through a county subsidized program,” said Joanna Vallelunga, director of food services and executive chef at the center. “I think there’s a lot of seniors in need in our community, and I think it’s a wonderful thing that we have a center like this that can provide for the needs of the community.”
In addition to meals that are served in house, the center has a home-delivery program for seniors who are homebound.
“It might be their only complete meal of the day, so we pride ourselves in trying to do our best and give them a really good meal every day,” lead cook Eric Samson said.
The center’s food services team makes each recipe from scratch, working hard to create unique meals while following the county’s regulations, according to Vallelunga.
“We pay special attention to planning and presentation, and even down to the micro garnish, so that way they feel like they’re getting a gourmet meal from a fancy restaurant,” Vallelunga said.
“Once we’re in a beautiful building like Bella Vida, we’ve got to step it up and make the food look presentable as well,” Samson added.
Last year, Vallelunga hosted a cook-off, allowing each chef to audition their favorite dish to be added to the menu for the year.
“That brings great pride to the workers here to see that something that they love to do is reflected every day on the menu and enjoyed by hundreds of seniors every day,” she said.
Samson’s chicken alfredo dish made it onto the menu, which he said is really good. “Any pasta dish is really fun (to make) — everybody loves it.”
Personally, Samson said he enjoys the challenges that come with the position, such as the constantly changing menu. “We’ve got a six-week rotating menu where we’re serving something new every day for six weeks.”
Elizabeth and Bob Comer have been coming to the center almost every day for years to volunteer.
“Seniors tend to stay home and do nothing, and this gives us an opportunity to be among people, to learn new things and to be active,” Elizabeth said.
Bob agreed, adding, “There’s always something going on, so it’s a way to stay busy … and we have a good time.”
In terms of the food, Bob said, “It gets better all the time.”
These types of reactions are exactly what keeps Vallelunga and her team going.
“This isn’t just a job, it is a mission, and it’s truly an honor to be able to be the chef here at Bella Vida,” she said.