THEY took back their kitchen so they could take action on the quality of food ultimately turning NoosaCare's Carramrra village into a national model of how to do it better for aged care residents.
NoosaCare group care manager Sandra Gilbert is part of the Lantern Project which is working towards changing the knowledge and approach of the Federal Government to aged care nutrition.
"It doesn't always have to be done the way it's been done in the past," Mrs Gilbert said.
She recognised that NoosaCare couldn't have done any worse than they were doing when it came to their food offerings. Change for good was their only option. Out went the contractors and in came a fresh approach. "Actually, we saved money because we started talking to local producers instead of having big trucks coming up from Brisbane every day delivering food we had no control over."
Themed gardens areas, gently undulating paths, a little river, a 'beach' setting and even an edible garden are all part of the NoosaCare experience on offer to the dementia sufferers. The venue exudes a sense of peace and harmony on the outside.
On the inside is young English chef Jamie Oakley overseeing an inviting menu that makes use of the latest food tools to create texture modified food for residents with swallowing problems.
"He has taken on the moulded food with such a passion," Sandra said. "We used to call it puree food in aged care and he said, 'that's so insulting; it sounds like baby food', so he came up with the name 'smooth food'."
The classically trained chef worked in Michelin star restaurants and owned his own restaurant for nine years prior to emigrating to Australia with his family. "A lot of the techniques of shaping the food have come from my training," Jamie said.
"With the help of management and with some investment, we have been able to take it (meals) to a different level so the meals look exactly the same as every other resident's meal, which is essential I believe. Pretty much every fruit and vegetable we can puree and then turn it back into its original form."
Jamie said chefs use a form of seaweed extract, which contains agar-agar, which is jelly-like substance, to mould the food. "It's called molecular gastronomy," Jamie added.
The colour and flavour of the 'smooth food' is impressive. "The residents and carers have warmed to it and the staff just love producing it," Jamie said.
The cost of presenting this texture modified food is about $2.50 extra per individual meal.
"I have just started to develop the next level beyond this," Jamie said. He is working on food that is in a solid form, not completely liquified. "I have made Oreo biscuits and sandwiches." The new product isn't for sale in Australia as yet, and he is keeping mum about its name and origin, for now.
The Lantern Project group are vocal and active advocates in educating the aged care sector about how to improve older Australian's quality of life through good nutrition. It includes nutrition and aged care sector experts from all parts of Australia and is seeking to achieve a cultural change in aged care nutrition.
"They are our elders and they deserve respect and the best possible food we can provide to them," Mrs Gilbert said. "When that becomes the norm that you are serving food at this level, not just to save money in a budget, then we will see change."