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Sweet spot

Whipping up delicious desserts is a piece of cake for Oak Crest culinary team

Danielle Rexrode
January 28, 2020

"I don't like dessert," said no one ever. If you're like me, you don't need a reason to reach for something sweet. But the latest study by The NPD Group, a leading global information company, indicates dessert is in danger at households across America.

The study shows that only 12% of home-cooked meals included dessert in 2015, down from 15% in 2005. The reason: dessert takes too much effort. Americans now prefer easy, one-dish meals which, in many cases, leaves dessert off the menu. 

But for people who live at Oak Crest, an Erickson Living-managed community in Parkville, Md., dessert is always on the menu. Thanks to a flexible meal plan program, many Oak Crest residents find themselves spending less and less time over the stove. 

A daily meal plan that provides one meal for every day of a given month at any of Oak Crest's on-site restaurants, while a 20-meal plan provides 20 meals in any calendar month, allowing residents to allocate meals any way they choose. And with seven distinctive on-site restaurants to choose from, there are always plenty of options to satisfy your cravings. 

"We try to feature a variety of desserts on our menus including popular favorites like cheesecake and tiramisu," says Executive Chef Joseph Bollinger. "We also will try new recipes for special events. For example, one year, we did a popular apricot bar. It has a graham cracker crust topped with chopped apricots, pecans, and coconut and then drizzled with sweet condensed milk and baked. It's really gooey and chewy. It was a hit!" 

Sweet smell of success

Last fall, Bollinger and his team entered the 2019 Taste of Senior Living competition sponsored by LifeSpan Network. The event featured the delicious creations of 28 senior living communities from the mid-Atlantic region. 

Bollinger's hazelnut and chocolate mousse petit fours with a hazelnut cookie crust served with a pumpkin Frangelico cream sauce won the Best Dessert award. It marked the second consecutive year that Bollinger and Team Oak Crest captured the Best Dessert designation.

LifeSpan's Taste of Senior Living event brings together great food, great people, and serious competition. Senior living community cuisine professionals are invited to compete for honors across several categories, scored by an elite team of judges plus a popular vote of those in attendance. Chefs have an opportunity to flex their creative muscle as communities demonstrate the cuisine that wins the hearts and stomachs of discerning residents. 

"We have a lot of talented chefs here at Oak Crest," says Chef Bollinger. "I haven't served the winning dessert yet here at Oak Crest, but I plan to do a variation of it for the community's twenty-fifth anniversary celebration this year." 

In addition to Oak Crest winning the Best Dessert Award, sister communities from across the Erickson Living enterprise achieved success.  Culinary professionals from Cedar Crest, in Pequannock, N.J., won the Silver Spoon award, and the team from Charlestown in Catonsville, Md., received top honors for Best Appetizer.

Save room for dessert

Throughout the year, Oak Crest residents enjoy themed events and holiday-inspired celebrations.

"The special occasions truly ramp up the creative juices of our team. Whether it's a Valentine's dinner menu, a stir-fry station, or the annual gala, we have a passion for making our residents happy at mealtime," says Bollinger. 

"Our catering department hosts a monthly Elegant Dinner with three or four courses. They usually start with an hors d'oeuvres or appetizer like a salad with seared scallops. The entrée offers two choices: meat or seafood. We have served tenderloin, rack of lamb, veal chops, and seafood dishes with crab and shrimp. We recently featured a Chilean sea bass topped with crab," says Bollinger.

At the time of publication, the menu for the Valentine's Elegant Dinner was not finalized. But with Chef Bollinger and his team at the helm, you can bet that dessert will be delicious. 

"We have served cookies, cakes, chocolate-covered strawberries, and one year, we had a homemade Belgian chocolate mousse," says Bollinger. "For Valentine's Day, something sweet is always a given."