, Salem, MA

April 2, 2014

For Brooksby chefs, challenges are the same ... and different

By John Castelluccio
Staff Writer

---- — PEABODY — More than 100 senior citizens flocked to Brooksby Village Monday for a special culinary treat at the sprawling retirement complex off Route 114.

The event was dubbed the first “Taste of Brooksby Village” and featured special menu selections prepared by the professional chefs who run five restaurants at the complex. The on-site restaurants range from formal dining to a laid-back pub atmosphere and a cafe offering three meals a day. Residents have their own kitchens if they’d like to cook, and there’s a meal service with different plan options.

The event was also an opportunity to chat with the staff about what it’s like cooking for a retirement community. Dining Food Services Director Charleen Archambault and Executive Chef Michael Ayers took a few minutes to talk with The Salem News.

Archambault, who has a background in nutrition, has worked at Brooksby for 10 years.

Ayers has 25 years in the industry. He graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, studied in Europe for a couple of years, and cooked at hotels, restaurants and country clubs before coming to Brooksby Village six years ago.

How are your restaurants different from commercial restaurants?

“If you compare us to an outside restaurant, there’s really not a lot of difference,” Archambault said. “We can serve anything an outside restaurant can. I think the difference is we know the people that are coming to dine with us. ...

“Sometimes, we can put a glass of iced tea down for Mrs. Jones when she arrives. We have that nice personal touch, maybe if you’re a regular in a restaurant you get, maybe not.”

What’s the staff like?

Ayers said there are four chef de cuisines under him, and each one runs a restaurant, doing all the finances, ordering and menu selections. There are also about 100 wait staff, many of whom are local high school and college students.

What’s your favorite dish?

“Anything I haven’t tried before,” Ayers said. “... What gets me excited is finding something I’ve never tried, something that I’m not familiar with.” He singled out a Thai sandwich one of the chefs created for Monday’s luncheon.

How do you choose the menus?

“For regular dining, we really count on the residents to tell us what they’re looking for,” Ayers said. Given the wide range of palates represented in a community of 1,900 residents, the requests vary from meat loaf to prime rib, filet, lamb chops and more.

“We have our meat-and-potatoes crew and more of a wine dinner crew ... and people (who) are vegetarians,” he said. Four to five special wine dinners are also offered each year.

Ayers said the menus — each restaurant has its own — are anything but simple. “We change our menus every day. We start from scratch every day and rotate every week ... so at any given time, we have 75 entrees available.”

What’s your biggest challenge?

“Our challenge is making sure it’s consistent,” Ayers said. “... Whereas with a restaurant you might see your clients a few times a month ... we see them every day.”

You can reach John Castelluccio at 978-338-2527, or via Twitter at @SNjcastelluccio.