Simon Ferries is Chef Manager at Manor Court care home in Plymouth. Simon has worked in hospitality for over thirteen years, spending much of that time in the busy kitchens of hotels and restaurants.
In 2013, he made the switch to Anchor care homes, where he is now Chef Manager. We caught up with Simon to talk about his time with Anchor so far, the day-to-day life of an Anchor chef, and hear about two of his favourite recipes.
It was my Nan who first inspired me to pursue a career in catering. As a chef herself, she ran her own catering business, mostly cooking up food for outdoor events.
Once, when I must have been around four or five, she and my grandad hired out an enormous, one-hundred seater double decker bus, which they filled to the brim with delicious buffet food. Then, they drove it into Newcastle city centre to cater for a wedding!
As you can tell, family is a big part of my life - to begin with, I took the job with Anchor care homes precisely because of the hours. My little boy wasn't very well, and going back and forth to hospital meant that I really needed a strong work-life balance, which I struggled to find in my previous role.
Having had no former insight into everyday life in a care home, I was immediately surprised by everything that Manor Court had on offer: the dining area was set out like a posh restaurant, and the food was excellent! Whilst I didn't really know what to expect, I was delighted - the kitchen, for instance, was humongous!
My day kicks off at 8.30am, when we start to prep meals and set up the kitchen for breakfast; the residents generally prefer it cooked, but there are always other choices available. As residents wake up at different times, breakfast continues throughout the morning, though at 10.30am we’ll start thinking ahead to the next meal, getting everything prepped. If you can get any of the bits done for the evening, it’s always a bonus!
The menu revolves around a four week meals rota, which is seasonal, so it changes throughout the year. Everything on the menu is pretty much agreed with the residents - in fact, they pretty much write it; I just cook it!
Mostly, it’s the old-school homemade dishes that people love - there's a lot of liver, cottage pie, shepherd’s pie. And, of course, everyone enjoys their roast dinners - we have a Wednesday roast and a Sunday roast, which we usually accompany with a tasty alternative. Friday is Fish Friday – and always a hit!
The same rings true for desserts: we cook up semolina, tapioca, pineapple upside down cake - the treats that people enjoyed when they were younger. There's a nostalgic aspect to a lot of the meals we make. It's a really important part of life – eating the meals you love.
On our menus, we also feature our own signature dishes. For instance, Mark, my deputy chef, has his own signature dish, so on one day of the month we’ll cook up “Manor Court’s Signature Beef Jardiniere”. It’s a way of making our dinners more personal – when we know who’s cooking for us, we value our meals more.
To all of us, it’s imperative that every resident is able to enjoy the menu, regardless of dietary or medical requirements. For residents with dysphagia, where there’s a potential risk of choking on tougher foods, we’ll make them a pureed version of what’s on the menu: it doesn’t seem fair otherwise, for them to sit down and have a meal that’s different to everybody else. It’s the same food, presented in a slightly different way.
Being here, I’ve learned a lot. Cooking the meals the residents love takes me back to when they were younger - many of these dishes, as I grew up, I never learned to make.
Before coming to Manor Court, I wasn’t entirely au fait with baking, either. I had to do a lot of learning, going home at the end of the day and flicking through recipe books, looking up recipes on the internet, practicing and improving my skills. From all this, I’ve actually become quite good – my signature dish, now, is “Chef Simon’s Signature Pineapple Upside Down Cake”!
It’s always been the case that if I see myself as not being very good at something, or if I think there might be a problem, I’ll go away and practice until I feel I’ve improved. At Manor Court, I feel I’m learning every day.