At Vi at Highlands Ranch dining is more than just a meal — it’s an experience. Whether a resident has opted for a low-sodium or low-sugar diet, or they live in the care center, the goal is the same for the community’s culinary team: create the most enjoyable, delicious dining experience possible.
That dining experience is made possible by a dedicated team that runs the dining program. While the menu is spearheaded by Executive Chef Greg Strickland, there are countless employees behind the scenes who work hard to make sure each meal goes off without a hitch — something the residents don’t take for granted.
“We have a choice of 11 entrées every evening — that’s amazing,” said resident Bill Hinckley, who also serves on the resident Dining Services committee with his wife, Sue. “But what’s even more amazing is being able to pull it all off beautifully, time after time after time, for the same people every day.”
In the Mind of the Chef
Executive Chef Gregory Strickland has been at the community since 2004. He previously worked in resorts and private restaurants in places like Key West, New Orleans and even the U.S. Virgin Islands. And he’s brought his experience from those jobs with him to the kitchen at Vi at Highlands Ranch.
“My philosophy has always been food first,” Strickland said. “I enjoy offering residents my culinary vision, and I never want our dining room to feel like senior living — I want it to feel like a resort.”
He offers a menu of composed dishes, rather than à la carte selections, pairing flavors and textures he believes work well together. Here’s a sampling of some of the creations on Strickland’s “Always Available” menu at Vi at Highlands Ranch:
Certified Angus Beef filet mignon with steamed broccoli, bacon-chive mashed potatoes, and bordelaise sauce
Maple soy–glazed pork tenderloin with roasted winter vegetables and stewed apples
Curating the Dining Experience
Rounding out the “workflow” of each meal is John Murray, the Director of Dining Services for the community. Having worked in foodservice since high school, Murray enjoys working with the culinary team and feeling like part of something greater.
“I love taking care of people. I feel like part of their family,” Murray said.
Throughout his career, Murray has sought ways to bring people together through delicious food and great dining experiences. His role as Dining Services Director is the culmination of that: offering him an opportunity to interact directly with residents daily, and see them coming together over meals.
As a Certified Dietary Manager, Murray has learned a lot about how residents’ diets affect the aging process — and he loves helping them make good choices.
Letting Residents Weigh InBut the dining team at Vi at Highlands Ranch know their greatest successes come from happy customers. That’s why the staff and residents come together each Monday for a “Culinary Corner” where residents can weigh-in on the culinary offerings, and speak directly to the Chef and his team.
According to Strickland, the weekly gatherings are designed to provide insight into the flavors and dietary details of the coming week’s menus, and also offer a forum for residents to talk about the community’s food in general.
“We have a healthy back and forth — residents always have praise, and suggestions to share about the menu,” he said. “And the small group setting allows me to explain my choices in the kitchen very honestly!”
Strickland develops many new recipes based on resident feedback and is always having fun in the kitchen, playing with new ingredients and dishes he thinks residents might enjoy. He lets residents sample his experiments in the form of appetizers, small plates, or dishes offered at the brunch buffet.
“Those smaller portions mean you can go a little crazy, a little out there — and residents can try a little something without having to commit to a main dish,” he said. “It provides a way for all of us to try new things together.”
“We do everything in-house, so we can always adjust things in the kitchen to make a dish work for a resident,” Murray said. “For many of our residents, dinner is a highlight. They should enjoy the food, and the socialization is also just as important. We've got to make sure that every meal is an experience.”