Having spent nearly two years as executive chef of Biltmore Estate, Damien Cavicchi was pretty sure he knew how to make cornbread. He’d perfected a mountain-style preparation that involved bacon and a cast-iron pan.
But in the eyes of the residents of a Mississippi senior home operated by Blake Management Group, which in 2013 hired Cavicchi away from The Biltmore and its hoity-toity tendencies, that deliberate Old South homage didn’t belong on a plate with plain black-eyed peas or cooked-down collards. They wanted dense buttermilk cornbread that crumbled on command. Or they wanted the kind of cornbread that’s as sweet and moist as birthday cake.
Cavicchi knew his recipe didn’t stand a chance. Yet he also hesitated to side with either cornbread camp. So he dutifully baked cornbread both ways until residents had a chance to fight out their philosophies in a monthly meeting of the Culinary Council, a resident board that’s become a fixture of life care facilities.
CHARLESTON, S.C. (July 31, 2017)— Senior living communities are rarely lauded for their dining programs but with a resident-focused, chef-driven approach to dining, thoughtfully planned menus and a hospitality-minded vision led by Chef Damien Cavicchi, Blake Management Group (BMG) has brought a fine dining experience to South Carolina’s senior housing industry. This vanguard dining program is in place in BMG’s three locations across the state.
“Our approach to dining is hospitality driven which means restaurant style accommodations, gracious service to our residents and trained chefs with restaurant backgrounds,” said Cavicchi, Director of Culinary Operations for BMG. “Food is a regular highlight for many of us throughout our lives, and our approach to dining at The Blake is from a place of not only comfort and enjoyment, but also health.”
Like his colleagues in fine dining establishments, Chef Cavicchi updates menus frequently, incorporating seasonal ingredients and balancing the menu with a mix of signature dishes and specific requests from residents. His challenge is in delivering fresh, flavorful meals that are both familiar yet exciting to BMG’s senior residents. “To maintain the healthy value of our meals without compromising taste, a lot of considerations are made in preparation,” Cavicchi explains. “Cooking techniques are diverse and important to our chefs. We generally prefer to gently cook a fresh vegetable just to the point of bright green tenderness, rather than boil it with pork for hours.”
Cavicchi understands healthy eating can mitigate the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease and diabetes. He carefully prepares food to maximize its nutritional value and incorporates “superfoods” proven to have incredible health benefits and likely aid in improved brain function. He notes the importance of recognizing the impact food can have on physical and mental wellbeing.
“Some of our superfood success stories include vegetable salads such as a raw, chopped broccoli salad or salmon curry, loaded with memory-boosting turmeric.”
Chef Cavicchi is passionate about creating menus beneficial to the mind and body that reflect the food experiences residents have enjoyed for most of their lives. South Carolina BMG residents can expect a menu of traditional Southern fare with low-country influences, executed in a healthier way by incorporating local ingredients and dietary science.
Cavicchi is no stranger to the Carolinas. After owning and operating several restaurants of his own, he worked at the esteemed Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C. from 2008 through 2013, leading food and beverage operationsfor Biltmore’s restaurants, while garnering local and national press. Always the advocate of quality, Chef Cavicchi worked to elevate the estate’s culinary offerings through partnerships with Biltmore’s own production gardeners and through relationships with regional purveyors. Residents at The Blake can expect an approach to dining inspired by the thoughtful attention to detail that makes restaurant style dining a joy.
“I was drawn to The Blake because I saw an opportunity to change an industry,” explains Cavicchi. “We are creating a special dining program at BMG and will continue to improve upon it and deliver the best possible experience for our residents.”
BMG intentionally follows a restaurant model when staffing each community’s dining program, an approach unique to the senior housing industry. Each property has dedicated dining employees including servers, a dining room coordinator and executive chef. Many members of BMG’s culinary team have received formal training at culinary school or worked years in fine restaurants. The dining team is provided with ongoing training in order to achieve and maintain the quality level of product and service that one would expect from a great restaurant.
BMG communities typically include several well-appointed dining rooms, in addition to a café and coffee shop featuring signature coffees and grab-and-go options. Communities host seasonal holiday celebrations, cookouts and wine and cheese socials. Hospitality stations feature coffee, pastries, sweets and seasonal fruit. BMG understands the connection between food and socialization, making special efforts to customize dining services and events to best serve their residents.
BMG has three South Carolina senior living communities including The Blake at Woodcreek Farms (TBAWF) located in Northeast Columbia; The Blake at Carnes Crossroads (TBACC) in Summerville, scheduled to open this summer; and The Blake at Edgewater (TBAE) in the Indian Land development just south of Charlotte, N.C., scheduled to open later this year.
Blake Management Group
Blake Management Group is an independently owned senior living operator with communities in the Southeastern United States (Ala., Fla., Ga., La., Miss., S.C., Tenn.). Focusing primarily in assisted living and memory care units and programming, BMG also manages approximately 300 independent living units. BMG’s motto is “A New Tradition in Care,” which encapsulates the company’s desire to be traditional yet modern in the service and amenities brought to seniors and their families. BMG currently has approximately 600 employees and 10 communities. For additional information on BMG, please visit bmgseniorliving.com.For additional photos, recipes or interviews with Chef Damien Cavicchi, please contact Kristin Allen: 601.622.3447.
BATON ROUGE, La., November 21, 2016 – It’s no wonder Damien Cavicchi has devoted himself to the enjoyment of fine food. A native of New Orleans with an Italian heritage, Cavicchi has been surrounded by good food his entire life. Now the Director of Culinary Operations for Blake Management Group, Cavicchi incorporates state of the art dietary science into the menus of Blake’s Retirement, Assisted Living and Memory Care Communities like the one being built at The Grove in Baton Rouge.
A Certified Executive Chef [CEC] through the American Culinary Federation, Cavicchi executes his role throughout the entire dining experience, training chefs and dining room managers to bring a hospitality focused approach to the senior living dining experience. Damien is passionate about creating menus that reflect the food experiences that residents have enjoyed for much of their lives, while incorporating new foods that are both beneficial to body and mind.
Chef Cavicchi knows that healthy eating can mitigate the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease and diabetes. He carefully prepares food to maximize their nutritional value and incorporates “super foods” proven to have incredible health benefits. There is data to support that eating a diet rich in these foods may help the brain function better and slow memory loss in seniors.
“Our approach to dining is hospitality driven, which means restaurant style accommodations, gracious service, trained chefs with restaurant backgrounds,” said Cavicchi. “Food is a regular highlight for many of us throughout our lives, and our approach to dining at The Blake is from a place of not only comfort, and enjoyment, but also health.” He notes that it’s very important to recognize the impact that food can have on physical and mental wellbeing. “Some of our super food success stories include vegetable salads such as a raw, chopped Broccoli Caesar, Salmon Curry – that’s loaded with memory-boosting Turmeric, Olive Oil Carrot Cake with Walnuts, and adding fresh berries seasonally to salads and muffins.”
Cavicchi is no stranger to fine dining. After owning and operating several restaurants of his own, he worked at the famous Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC from 2008 through 2013, leading food and beverage operations for Biltmore’s restaurants, and garnering local and national press. Always the advocate for all things quality, Chef Damien worked to elevate the estate’s culinary offerings through partnerships with Biltmore’s own production gardeners and through relationships with regional purveyors. Residents at The Blake can expect cuisine and service with an inspired approach and attention to detail.
The Blake at the Grove will incorporate three individual, sit-down dining rooms, along with a Café and Coffee Shop featuring signature coffees, bistro plates and grab and go options, and will even have a full bar serving cocktails, beer and wine on the property. The community will host seasonal holiday celebrations, wine and cheese socials, and cookouts. A hospitality station will feature coffee, pastries, sweets and fruit. The Blake takes pride in delivering upscale restaurant-style dining experiences with highly trained chefs and food prepared purposefully for seniors.
Blake Management Group (BMG) is a privately owned senior living management company which operates all Blake communities with the goal to ensure residents receive the best care in every market they serve. With locations in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and South Carolina, Blake’s managed communities blend modern Southern sensibilities with compassionate care. Blake communities are staffed by a licensed Nurse 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and wellness programs incorporate customized care plans for each resident. Other amenities provided by the concierge-style approach of The Blake include housekeeping and scheduled transportation services, a swimming pool and indoor spa, media and card rooms, a fitness center and yoga studio, an onsite chapel, full-service salon, and the Blake’s signature Active Living program.To be completed by the summer of 2017, The Blake at The Grove promises to offer new and exciting living opportunities for seniors in the region. Strategically located in the new Grove community in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, The Blake at The Grove will offer seniors an experience unlike any other. Retirement and hospitality are blended to create an independent, assisted living and memory care community where residents will feel right at home.
The former executive chef of Jolie’s Louisiana Bistro is now developing the dining services for a new luxury senior living facility.
Gregory Doucet was contacted by the executive director of The Blake at Lafayette just after the public announcement that Jolie’s would close its doors forever on Valentine’s Day.
“It just seemed like the best opportunity and one that’s going to be a little different than what I’m used to,” Doucet says. “It’s a chance to grow. I’m ready to get started, see what I can do, see how far we can go with this.”
The Blake won’t offer the typical scoop-and-serve cuisine you might expect from an assisted living and nursing home facility. Instead, The Blake at Lafayette, which is on track to open in May, is focusing on restaurant-style dining services and culinary experiences rooted in culture.
“We’re like the cruise ship that never leaves the dock,” says Susan Begnaud, executive director of The Blake. “We want to offer activities, dining experiences and things that embrace the culture of Lafayette. That’s the reason we’ve hired Greg to be our director of culinary services.”
Doucet, 27, started at Jolie’s as a line cook in 2009 and worked his way up to executive chef in 2013 before the restaurant closed.
Time spent in the kitchen at Jolie’s helped Doucet realize he didn’t want to continue studying business at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette but instead culinary arts at the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University. Doucet earned his bachelor’s in culinary arts in 2012 from the program.
“One of the things I really liked when interviewing Greg is that his food is about pleasing people,” Begnaud says. “And I think that’s a really strong statement when you’re talking about an executive chef in a facility like ours…He wants to really please people with his food.”
“That’s what the hospitality industry is all about,” Doucet chimes in. “And if you’re a chef and you’re not doing that, then you’re just lying to yourself.”
What is the most people-pleasing food you can make?
“Around here, you can’t go wrong with a gumbo or a jambalaya, basically anything you can cook in a big pot outside and just kind of talk and hang out while eating together,” Doucet says.
That’s why The Blake plans to offer boiled crawfish in the courtyard on Fridays during Lent and other communal dining experiences in addition to the regular restaurant-style dining and coffee and ice cream shop.
Doucet is still developing menu ideas for The Blake’s dining services, which will include daily breakfast, lunch and dinner specials with 10 to 12 rotating a la carte options per meal.
“What’s intriguing about this is that it’s not just day-in, day-out the same old thing,” he says. “I’m sure there will be some dietary restrictions, but I want to keep things as creative and imaginative as possible. If you had to eat at the same place every single day, it would get boring. I want to keep it fun and moving.”
Some of Jolie’s most familiar menu items might even make an appearance now and then, according to Doucet.
“It’s nice because I can be face-to-face with the clients and ask them what they want,” he says. “I’m looking forward to getting on a friendly basis with all of these residents and just playing off of what they want.”
The senior living community can accommodate about 130 residents. The Blake’s monthly room rental, which starts at $2,500, includes high-end furnishings and finishes, chef-prepared meals, maintenance, transportation, events and other amenities.
“It’s very much like the style you’d find in the River Ranch community,” Begnaud says. “But our pricing is comparable to most assisted living facilities across the state. We just offer that unique experience.”
Nine locations of The Blake are currently or soon-to-be operating in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina.
Begnaud expects four to five locations of The Blake in Louisiana by the end of 2017. In addition to Lafayette, communities are planned for Baton Rouge, Bossier City and Thibodaux.
The Blake at Lafayette will be located at 400 Polly Lane. Learn more about retirement, assisted living and memory care options by visiting blakeliving.com or calling 337-993-8898.
Originally published by The Advertiser, Photo by Scott Clause/The Advertiser