Verity's worked in catering since she was sixteen years old, starting out by serving fish n' chips and then cooking meals in a hotel before joining the Anchor team in Scarborough, 1999.
In 2004, she moved to Southampton, where she is now Chef Manager at Dawson Lodge care home. We caught up with Verity to chat about her daily routine as an Anchor care home chef, finding out everything she loves about working in the home and two of her favourite recipes.
When I started cooking in an Anchor care home, I was immediately struck by how rewarding it felt.
Here, you're not just hidden away all day in the back of a kitchen, unlike a pub or a café. Instead, you're out on the floor, recognising people every day, talking to them all the time, having a good gossip and chinwag. Working in a hotel kitchen, you’re stuck behind a sink, essentially talking to the pots. And believe me: they don’t really give you much conversation!
Immediately, it feels like you've become part of a family. And it feels so much greater than simply cooking meals.
Most days, I'll get up at around 6 am to start work at 7, when the kitchen opens and we start prepping for breakfast. When the residents begin to appear, usually at around half 7, we’ll go and ask them what they’d like for breakfast: some like a cooked breakfast, others just cereal and toast. We're busy bees – normally, I'd say we cook about 120 meals per day!
We have a four week menu rotation, and we regularly check in with the residents to ensure that the menu features meals that take their fancy: we ask what they’d like to see included, what they’d like to see more of, what they like, what they don’t like.
For every new dish we want to make, we run tasting sessions first, giving residents the chance to say, "Oh no, we're not liking that!" or, "Yes please, we love it!" If a resident's not able to speak for themselves, we ask for family or friends to pop by and help.
Today, we're having midweek roast–roast beef and Yorkshire puddings. The alternative is salmon fishcakes. We always provide different options, so we know there’s always something for everyone.
The menu's seasonal - currently, it changes twice a year, so there's a spring-summer menu and one for autumn and winter. You tend to have more salads, pasta dishes and fresh fruits in the summer. In the winter, we all love comfort food – rich meals like stew, dumplings, and soups.
Many of the recipes we use are entirely our own, so we're fully involved in creating the menus. At heart, I’m a desserts person - I love baking at home, but there’s only myself and my husband around to eat it! It's great to be able to come here and bake for the residents to enjoy - my carrot cake goes down particularly well...
Sometimes, people will come to me with their own recipes for dishes they made in the past - they'll say, “I’ve brought you this, can you see if you can make it? It used to be my favourite!” We’ll sit down together, look through it, and make it!
There was one lady who brought me a recipe for what we’d call millionaire's shortbread. However, she used to call them “maybes” - because “maybe they’d work, maybe they wouldn’t”!
In the home, we put on regular baking sessions for residents. I ask if they'd like to chop the veg, for instance, when prepping meals. It's so important for people to be involved, especially when you spend your whole life cooking for family, loved ones, friends.
I know that, personally, I've always loved cooking for people. Food and meals are an important way of making people feel good, and I think that anything to do with food has always been a happy time - like going out, getting together with family, celebrating.
Food is always so important to how we feel. And I guess - more than anything - it makes me happy, to see people eating and happily enjoying their food, too!