For Executive Chef Mackenzie Jones, food is what brings people together. Read about his love of cooking and bringing joy to the residents he serves.
Mackenzie Jones, Executive Chef at Traditions of Durham Retirement Residence in Oshawa, ON, has a passion for the flavours of the world. Growing up with Greek and Dutch heritage, food was always at the forefront of any event.
“I was always amazed by how food brought people together,” Mackenzie said. “Cooking makes me feel like a child. It brings back childhood memories. Time stands still when I am in the kitchen. I was passionate about cooking as a kid, and that passion has only grown.”
Mackenzie always knew he wanted to be a chef, and he attended the culinary program at George Brown College in Toronto where he was trained in classical French cuisine. Later, he developed a love of Asian and Indian dishes, which he said were “filled with vibrant colours and flavours.”
“It’s also lighter and healthier than classical French, where you have a lot of heavy sauces,” Mackenzie said. “Sean’s way of cooking opened my eyes to adding more nutrition, while still making meals delicious.”
Sean Norris is the National Director of Culinary at Sienna Senior Living. He’s been working hard the last few months to revolutionize Sienna’s menus with more nutrition, fresher ingredients, and exclusive items only found in Sienna residences.
“Nutrition is very important, especially for seniors. They eat in our dining room every day, so it’s important to have good, nutritious meals,” Mackenzie said. “We work hard to pack in more vegetables and have more vegetarian options. Nutrition is our fuel.”
One of the items that’s new to the menu is a roasted mini-sweet-potatoes and kale salad, Indian-spiced dehydrated chickpeas with a maple tahini dressing, pickled red onions and sundried cranberries.
Mackenzie said they’re moving towards more complete proteins, which pack a lot of nutrition into fewer calories.
“At Traditions, residents are pretty accepting of new flavours… which gives you the freedom to experiment. There are 100+ seniors in the dining room who are happy to let you know their thoughts and how you can make the food better.”
Behind Mackenzie’s desk is a wall of comment cards left by residents that he has saved.
“I often ask residents ‘What would you like to see?’ and if I can, I try to incorporate it… I take pride in cooking, and when residents enjoy the meal it’s notable. It’s why we’re here, and it’s very special to hear when they enjoy something.”
Mackenzie also draws attention to the unique skills held by each member of his team. There is sometimes a dish only one person in the kitchen makes, and he believes it is the perfect opportunity to let that person shine. Whenever this happens, he will name the dish after them on the menu.
“I have a wonderful team. A lot of different talents in the kitchen. It helps us grow, and everyone brings something to the table. This is probably one of the best teams I’ve worked with.”
With his team, Mackenzie works to fill resident’s plates with colour, nutrition, and the flavours they enjoy most. He says flexibility is his greatest friend in this position, as it’s important to be able to accommodate the residents he serves. Nutrition is an important part of any meal, but so is the overall experience of being given a dish to enjoy.
“Food should be delicious and filled with nutrition,” Mackenzie said. “We eat with our eyes first, and when we see the dish, we should think ‘Wow!’”