Houston, Texas—As a child, Donald Mutin, Sr. loved his mother's home-cooked meals and appreciated her attention to detail.
"My Mom taught me how to slice onions and peppers. I became her 'prep person' in our kitchen," recalled Chef Donald, the Executive Chef at Eagle's Trace retirement community.
He benefitted from being born and raised in New Orleans, known for some of the most iconic cuisine in the world. "At 15, I was already learning the ropes of preparing meat and creating an inviting salad bar at a part-time restaurant job," said Chef Donald. "The opportunities were magnificent."
Power of Mentorships
In fact, for four years he ran a kitchen as Executive Sous Chef under the tutelage of Emeril Lagasse, the famed celebrity chef and restaurateur. "He spearheaded my direction, and I picked his brain. By spending time with me, Chef Emeril guided my career as a corporate chef in Europe, Asia and the United States," noted Chef Donald. As Corporate Executive Chef, he was responsible for four restaurants, at which time he mentored Catherine Ann "Cat" Cora, best known for her role on the hit television show, Iron Chef America.
That philosophy of giving back to the next generation of culinary professionals still motivates Chef Donald.
"I start each day by having one-on-one chats with the kitchen team members. We value getting to know them as individuals so they receive the care and appreciation they deserve," he said.
The mission-oriented approach at the Erickson Living-developed and managed retirement community stands out.
"I've worked in the finest hotels and country clubs around the world, but nothing compares to seeing this team at Eagle's Trace seize the moment to learn and grow," said Chef Donald.
The team cherishes the daily opportunity to provide fresh, high-quality meals, executed at the moment of service and delivered to residents in dining venues ranging from casual to formal.
"Our menus have 25 entrees with three chef's specials per evening—and we change the menus quarterly," described Chef Donald. "Using fresh ingredients, this variety allows our sous chefs, line cooks and prep cooks to engage their creativity and passion."
As many residents have lived not only across the country, but internationally too, celebrating diverse cuisine is part of the culture at Eagle's Trace.
"We host themed nights that showcase Greek or Cajun selections, among others. At the Eagle's Trace Café, we have 'Around the World in a Week' to feature entrees from a particular country like Mexico. Our clientele are taken back to their roots with these unique programs," noted Chef Donald.
A retired business owner and church administrator, Donna Schlitt serves as the chair of the Dining Services Committee for Eagle's Trace, an advisory group that is a liaison between residents and the dining team leadership.
"As a wife, mother and working professional, I made time to cook because I enjoyed it, but now I am more than happy to relax at our restaurants," said Ms. Schlitt. "Signature dining suits an array of tastes. I like comfort foods such as filet and ribs, for example."
Communication is important, she noted.
"Partnering with Chef Donald is a pleasure because of his personality and openness to new ideas," stated Ms. Schlitt. "He participates in our 'dining talks" in which we solicit feedback, and his positive energy and expertise enhance the restaurant experience for residents and our guests."
The restaurant business can be grueling for cooks and managers alike with long hours and job burnout a common trend. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that the annual employee turnover rate in the industry was 73 percent as recently as 2016.
"Eagle's Trace has provided me the best work-life balance of my career," noted Chef Donald. "The schedule is predictable, allowing me to be home at a decent hour to spend time with my family. We have an outdoor kitchen in our back yard, and grilling on the pit with my wife and friends brings me happiness."
For more information about career opportunities at Eagle's Trace, please visit https://jobs.ericksonliving.com. Visitors can register for email alerts about job postings by field of expertise and location.
About Eagle's Trace: Eagle's Trace, situated on a scenic 72-acre campus in West Houston, Texas, is one of 20 continuing care retirement communities developed and managed by Erickson Living®. The community is home to more than 900 residents who are supported by a team of more than 475 employees. Additional information about Eagle's Trace can be found at EaglesTraceCommunity.com.