Phil Nourse, the cook manager of Anglebury Court in Dorset, tells Richard McComb about the day-to-day struggle to put a smile on
the face of elderly residents and day visitors
Former Royal Navy cook Phil Nourse is cook manager at Anglebury Court, Wareham, a 32-bed care home run by Tricuro (formerly Dorset County Council).
During the week, the home admits a further 30 elderly people to its day centre. The visitors stay from 9am to 4pm, including lunch. Anglebury Court also takes residents on short stays for respite care, so the home is always full.
Nourse's shift begins at 8am and he works with an assistant cook and a kitchen assistant during the busier weekdays. Residents eat in small dining rooms of eight, where staff serve breakfast cereals and porridge. Nourse is on hand for any requests for cooked breakfasts.
He says: "Because they are the older generation, they are not into kedgeree or croissants as a rule. As a chef, you have to keep your ego in check because you are cooking what the residents want, not what you want."
Combatting malnutrition and maintaining the hydration of residents is high on the cook's agenda. The dishes on his five-week menu rotas are approved by Tricuro's catering department for nutritional content and balance. Residents are weighed, have their BMI checked and are given a score according to the Malnutrition Universal Screening Tool. The scores range from zero (no food fortification required) to four depending on risk.
Food might be fortified with extra butter or cream, for example, and drink supplements are provided for high calorie boosts. Cooking for lunch starts as soon as Nourse arrives, although vegetable prep takes place 24 hours in advance to ensure each service gets a flying start.
Lunch is served in the dining rooms by care staff at 12.30pm, although a small number of residents choose to stay in their rooms, perhaps if they have been unwell.
Afternoon tea is served at 5pm and might comprise a fish cake with a potato salad or sandwiches. Nourse ensures there is a homemade cake everyday. Popular choices include lemon drizzle, Battenberg and roulades. "The residents really like having cake and it gives them a hit of sugar," he says.
Tea and coffee are available together with fruit juices, squashes and other soft drinks. Residents are also offered a milky drink in the evening to maintain fluid intakes and energy levels.
Nourse's day ends about 4.30pm once the tea trolleys have been dispatched. It is his responsibility to ensure the food orders are placed, menus are ready for the next day and the kitchen is cleaned.
It is a challenge working to tight local authority budgets - the entire spend per day per resident is about £3.60 - but Nourse says the size of Tricuro means it can negotiate good rates with suppliers.
Nourse adapts meals for people with health issues such as diabetes and dementia, and for stroke sufferers. This might require texture modifications to dishes, so meat and vegetables are served in purée form. These meals are served in rimmed dishes so that the component parts are identifiable.
Nourse advocates building relationships with his diners and entices them to try meals if they are "off their food." He is prepared to deep fry fish or knock up a special dish if it encourages malnourished people to start eating.
"You have to connect with people and make a difference," he says. "People can be at a low ebb, they may have lost their other half or been ill and you build up a rapport with them. I go and have a chat with people one to one. "
Nourse insists it is an endlessly rewarding job. He recalls making a birthday cake for a resident and was concerned when the man started to cry. "I said: 'What's the matter?' He said: 'It is the first time I have had a birthday cake.' He was in his 80s.
"I like to make a difference in people's lives. That is what I really get out of the job."