Earlier this year, John Grover scooped the prestigious NACC Care Chef of the Year 2018 title after wowing the judges with his beautifully presented dishes and inventive use of classic ingredients. Here, the talented chef, who works at Auchtercrag House Care Home in Ellon, Aberdeenshire, shares his thoughts on the care catering world…

How did it feel to be crowned NACC Care Chef of the Year 2018?

Absolutely over the moon, at last the big one. I have won the regional before but not the big one, so I am absolutely elated.

Why do you think it is important to celebrate the work of care caterers?

Care caterers are seen as ‘cooks’ in the catering world, however, in today’s society, the care chef has to deal with many special dietary requirements like texture modification, fortified diets, low sodium etc. This is industry training you just don’t receive anywhere else. Without our skills and expertise, people’s wellbeing is seriously impacted.

How do you think care chefs are perceived among chefs in other sectors of the industry?

As above, they don’t see us as chefs, more as a cook just knocking out mince and tatties or stew. If they were to look at our competition plates they would see that we are very skilled. Perceptions are changing though, thanks to the work of associations like the NACC.

Have you always worked in the care sector?

No, I am a military person and served 24 years, although I got a taste for care while working in two military hospitals. On leaving the service I’ve worked offshore, in hotels and restaurants then back to care.

What or who inspired you to work in the care sector?

My mother, she has dementia and I saw the problems she experiences. It is so important to ensure that residents receive the best nutrition and hydration, this aids with recovery from illness and leads to a better quality of life.

What do you love most about your job?

No two days are the same; trying out new dishes for my residents, using different cuts of meat or fish, developing relationships with them to ensure they get everything they want. Seeing happy smiling faces at mealtimes is all the confirmation I need.

What are the biggest challenges facing care chefs?

Budgets and staffing in my eyes. We have to be looking for innovation all the time and without dedicated staff who don’t appreciate what the word CARE means, well why bother.

How has the growing prevalence of dementia within care homes changed the way your approach your job?

Everything my team does we approach with the focus that everyone is an individual so we must plan to adapt everything we offer to make it suitable. This keeps us very busy but we love the challenge.

Do you think the new (IDDSI) international guidelines governing texture-modified foods will help caterers?

Yes I do. We are always striving to improve our offer of texture diets and it is so rewarding to see your resident enjoy their meal or snack knowing it is the same as everybody else sitting at the table.

What advice can you offer chefs who might be considering a career in care catering?

It is rewarding, but very demanding. Things change every day and challenge you and your team. Our team motto is…”we are here to cook the food that people want to eat”.

And now for three questions that we ask all of our Leading Lights…
What are your three kitchen secrets?
  1. Don’t panic!
  2. Get your orders in, well in advance!
  3. Remember why you are here, your residents!
What is your favourite ingredient and why?

Nutmeg, it is the spice that goes a long way and tastes really good.

Please could you share your favourite recipe, along with your reasons for choosing it?

My winning main course from the NACC Care Cook of the Year final!