Avril Grant’s foodie career path started out in delicatessens. She got her “lucky break” when she landed a job with Ruth Pretty Catering and over the next 13 and a half years Ruth Pretty taught Avril everything she needed to know to be a chef.

The job as head chef at Ryman Healthcare’s Charles Fleming Retirement Village in Waikanae ticked all the boxes for Avril. It had predictable hours and its location meant that the Kapiti Coast girl didn’t need to travel to Wellington for work. The role also had enough to keep Avril challenged, something that was important to her.

“I started when the village was just being opened, so I began by setting up the kitchen and providing one meal a day, and now we provide more than 160 meals each day,” she says.

Avril starts her working day at 8am by preparing morning tea, then lunch, then dinner and finally ordering and prep for the next day, finishing about 5pm. Each day there is a base menu to work to, but Avril says they have scope to put a twist on it. She enjoys having the opportunity to put her own spin on the meals she is preparing.

“While there are the set-piece meals to prepare each day, there are a lot of other challenges.

I have to prepare meals for residents with special clinical dietary requirements including diabetes, gluten free and those who require fortified foods. The challenge is to make meals to fit the dietary requirements, but also to provide residents with good variety.

“There are always extra events such as happy hours, cocktail parties and fine dining events to prepare for. Fine dining happens once a month and I prepare a special three-course meal for residents who dine in style.”

Avril says the best part of her job is interacting with the retirement village residents.

“I love going out and talking to the residents, and they always let me know what they think.”

She understands just how important food is to the residents.

“I am a foodie; I love food shows (Rick Stein is my idol!) and events such as ‘Wellington On A Plate’ are research for me. I love travelling and trying out new food. I’ve been on holiday and already I’ve got a couple of great new things I’d like to try out at fine dining,” she says.

With this, comes the challenge of being consistently excellent.

“I love the satisfaction of coming to work each day and having such a significant impact because food is a really important part of the day here. Residents really look forward to their meals so you can never have an off day. You have to be great every day.”

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