“Love all the new variety and how healthy the food it!”
Chef Rene Rodriguez is a favourite on Ottawa’s culinary scene. And for good reason.
A chef who is thrilled by big, rich flavours and visual flair, Rodriguez has commanded brigades in Ottawa’s top hotels and restaurants for the past 25 years. Before opening Navarra to critical acclaim in 2008, he honed his skills at well-known restaurants like Ironwood Café, ARC the Hotel, the Black Cat Café and Social.
Now the Executive Chef at Beacon Heights Retirement Residence in Ottawa, Rene Rodriguez is on a mission to ignite retirement living centres with his passion for fresh ingredients. Find out why we’re so excited.
The Food and People That Inspired a Top Chef
Rene discovered his passion for food early in life. Watching his mother in the kitchen inspired him, and young Rodriguez quickly learned how to duplicate many of the family’s favourite dishes with ease. This was the beginning of a life-long love for fresh food and vibrant ingredients.
When Rene was 5 years old, his father – who worked at the Mexican embassy in Canada, moved the family to Mérida. The colourful capital of the Mexican state of Yucatán, Mérida has a rich Mayan and culinary heritage that had a big impact on young Rene.
“It was eye opening”, he says of the experience. “The freshness of ingredients, going to the market and seeing vegetables that were picked the day before, it’s a different mentality.”
One that he brought with him when he returned to Canada at 20 years old. Having learned to cook from his mother, Rene knew that he wanted to pursue a career as a chef, so he worked in restaurants as a dishwasher and prep cook to save for Le Cordon Bleu.
“It was the best cooking school in Ottawa at that time and, at the end of the day French cuisine is always the best to learn with all it’s details, presentations, techniques, and colours, and flavours”, explains the now veteran Chef.
Becoming a Celebrity Chef
After attaining his Red Seal Certification in 2000, Chef Rene dished up his magic at many high-profile restaurants before shooting to celebrity status on the Food Network Canada. First, he created delicious aromatic dishes on Cook like a Chef. Then, the chef gained national recognition when he took home the title during the fourth season of the Top Chef Canada in 2014.
In 2017, Rodriguez appeared on the U.S. Food Network show, where he prevailed against the U.S. mega-star Bobby Flay with his Huevos Rancheros.
“It was a very ferocious competition,” Rene says of Top Chef Canada. “It was difficult, but worth it. I learned a lot; became better person and a better chef. It was amazing to realize what you’re capable of when you are put under pressure as a human.”
Creating a Fine Dining Experience in Retirement
Bringing his years of knowledge and expertise to Beacon Heights, Rene is leading the culinary team to create memorable experiences with a focus on resident satisfaction.
After all, there is no reason to sacrifice quality, nutrition, or taste in your golden years. By highlighting cuisine, All Seniors Care is committed to shifting dated perceptions about senior living and setting a new standard for service.
“You need a match to ignite the sparks and start a fire”, Chef Rene says about his approach to changing the quality of food in retirement. “You have to be the fire that will spread. We will make some changes here and the next step is to branch out to all locations.”
The Chef’s vision is to create fresh and vibrant signature dishes. By using fresh herbs and vegetables grown in the community gardens, residents can feel a part of the community and the pride of contributing to a dish like Primavera Pasta with fresh vegetables!
1. Cook Fresh Daily
Inspired experiences start with fresh, locally sourced food.
With this as his core philosophy, Chef Rene is adapting nutrient-dense recipes for the residence kitchen. “I wanted to make mealtimes exciting, to elevate the food in retirement residences like this so that meals are something to look forward to,’ he says.
What is on the menu at Beacon Heights these days? You might find earthy Roasted Brussels Sprouts Glazed with Maple Syrup, Pan-Seared Salmon with Fresh Herbs and Citrus Beurre Blanc, or a delicate Red Wine Apple Tart.
2. Balance Nutrition and Taste
As ageing decreases the metabolism and appetite, seniors need smaller portions that pack more nutrition. For Chef Rene, the most important aspect of senior diet is that you want them to feel energized.
“You want seniors to feel good about what they eat,” says the celebrity chef. “In order for the body to function better, to awaken better, you have to alkalize the body. This means focussing on leafy greens, kale, and proteins like lentils.”
The experts agree. If you feel tired when you wake up, you probably don’t have enough antioxidants in your diet. So, rule number one is to always provide older adults with something fresh and green.
During his career, Rene also toured with Agriculture Canada teaching chefs in Cuba, Mexico, and Chile how to use Canadian products like beef, pork, lentils, canola, and maple syrup. This intimate knowledge of Canadian-grown ingredients is now fueling his menu design.
“Absolutely love it, I love trying new food! Huge progress with the vegetables.”
– Rejeanne D.
3. Dish Up Flexible Menu Options
Many retirement homes feature a find dining experience – but at Beacon Heights, we actually deliver.
Our wellness and culinary teams work together to accommodate the needs of residents with special diets. And to help those experiencing cognitive decline, all lunches and dinners have a designated “brain healthy choice” flagged with the BLOSSOM logo on the menu.
Think, fresh broccolini, eggplant, roasted vegetables. Inspire your taste buds through seasonally curated menus and daily chef’s specials in dining spaces designed for the ultimate in comfort.
Desserts are very popular with our seniors. With that in mind all desserts are made in-house to maximize flavour and create treats that also pack a nutritious punch. The change is so popular that the dessert pantry needs to be refilled daily!
Redefining Dining in an Active Living Community
Seniors in Canada are a rapidly growing segment of the population and are living longer and healthier lives than previous generations. Given that within the next 10 years, the number of people aged 65 plus will represent 23% of Canadians, the demand for high-quality retirement residences is staged to explode. With that in mind, as a Canadian family-run company, All Seniors Care dedicated to building communities that allow older adults to maintain purposeful and engaged lifestyles.
Built to encourage social interaction, our residences help seniors feel that they are part of a neighbourhood. That includes everything from having a tuck shop on site, art classes, Chef demos, a hair salon, library, theatre, and a space where residents can host a potluck or party.
Writer – Julianna McLeod
Julianna is a health and wellness expert at All Seniors Care. Her mission is to create content that empowers seniors to form sustainable solutions for lasting health and happiness. She is an experienced writer, editor, and Recreational Therapist living in Toronto.