Cathy Gallant is the Director of Culinary Services at Birkdale Place Retirement Residence in Milton, Ontario. She has worked in Revera’s kitchens since 2001, moving between several residences. She and her husband, Jim, have three “furbabies”: two cats, named Meeka and Sydney, and a Cocker Spaniel named Dottie. She loves the outdoors and likes to spend her free time at the cottage by the water. A favourite pastime is challenging her husband to a fishing derby to see who can catch the most fish.
What made you decide to choose a career in culinary?
I worked as a Dietary Aide when I was 15 years old and became interested in the cooking part of the job. I started filling in for the cooks and eventually went to culinary school at Niagara College for a more hands on approach to learning about food.
What is your favourite childhood memory involving food, or a special meal?
When I was younger, I remember every Saturday night we had cold meat and buns. My father and I always went shopping Saturday morning, to get all fresh buns and cold cuts. He always made homemade soup (chicken noodle or beef barley). Eventually family would stop by to join, because they knew that every Saturday night it was our routine. It became a family gathering and I loved that part about how food brings people together.
What was your first culinary job, and how did you know that you wanted to pursue a career in this field?
My first culinary job was at the place I worked at in St. Catharines as a fill in cook when I was 18. I really felt proud when the residents enjoyed my meals and the employees looked forward to my food over the other cooks.
What makes food and cooking special to you?
I enjoy when people express how they feel about the food that is made. The smiles on their faces after the work that is put into making the dishes. I enjoy well-presented meals, because you first eat with your eyes. Food is the base of all gatherings, and it brings people together.
What is your favourite type of cuisine to cook?
I don’t really have a favorite type of cuisine to cook. I do like to eat fresh Italian cuisine with homemade noodles. I enjoy creating something from ingredients from the pantry and fridge. Also, any alcohol related recipes (haha).
What is your go-to recipe to impress your residents?
I always go back to fresh pasta. One dish I love to make is pasta with mushrooms, leeks, chicken and sundried tomatoes. Of course, there’s also a splash of white wine in it.
What is the most popular or most requested menu item at your residence?
The most popular item is our barbecue ribs. We also have a grilled sandwich with turkey, swiss, cranberry mayo on a cranberry focaccia bread that’s a big fan favourite among our residents. It’s a hard choice between those two dishes.
What would residents say about your food?
The residents would say that I like to switch it up and try new things. I don’t like being stuck doing the same things over and over. They say variety is the spice of life and I think with food we should spice things up a bit. We have our favourites and requests, but I think it’s ok to try new things and our residents appreciate it.
What is the best compliment you have received about your food from a resident?
It’s nice to hear that when you try something for the first time, that they really enjoyed it. Sometimes it’s the simple things that I would think they wouldn’t care for on the menu, but really love it. Again, when they recognize the work that goes into a dish and enjoy it it’s the best feeling.
In your opinion, what are three tools every chef needs?
It’s simple: the passion for cooking, creativity, and a willingness to try to cook outside of your comfort zone.
In your opinion, what are the top three kitchen staples every kitchen should have?
- Sharp Knives
- Good quality equipment that you can be proud to use (pots, pans etc.)
- A variety of fresh herbs
What food trend is overrated?
The keto diet. I don’t know why it’s so popular!
If you could only have one dish for the rest of your life what would it be, and why?
It’s maybe silly, but I love chicken fingers; but well-prepared chicken fingers. My childhood warm fuzzy food is weenie wraps – hot dogs wrapped in crescent rolls. They are a memory of when I was a kid coming home for lunch and having my mother make them. Good food doesn’t have to be complicated, but it should make you feel happy.
When are you happiest at work?
I am happiest at work when I am around the residents at mealtimes and they enjoy the food our team has prepared. I also love welcoming new residents or people thinking about moving to Birkdale Place because it’s a chance to demonstrate why Birkdale Place is special. We have a great team and strong relationships with our residents.
If you could work with any chef who would it be, and why?
I think it would be neat to work with Anna Olson, a great Canadian baker. She makes baking look so easy. Also, Michael Smith. He is also Canadian and very down to Earth. He always says, “A full pantry is the basic start to cooking.”
What do you wish more people knew about a career in the senior living sector?
Working in the retirement sector is so personal. You have so many residents that depend on you for nourishment and enjoyment within their meals. You really have to get to know the residents as an individual and those relationships are so meaningful.