Imagine the pleasant aromas of a freshly cooked meal drifting through your house and the excitement that builds as you get ready to dig into a mouthwatering dinner like citrus glazed salmon or Tuscan shrimp pasta in the comfort of your own home.
Most of us would love nothing more than to enjoy such a treat on a nightly basis, but for seniors who are committed to aging in place, the reality is that preparing and eating a healthy, well-balanced diet isn’t always easy.
That’s where Chefs for Seniors enters the picture. The groundbreaking company—which started about six years ago in Madison, Wisc., and recently made its way to South Jersey for the first time—offers nutritious, home-cooked meals prepared by personable chefs in their clients’ own kitchens.
“We’re excited for this opportunity,” says Ron Tornari, a longtime chef and the co-owner of the first Chefs for Seniors franchise in New Jersey along with his partner, Cami Duffield.
“This concept takes something like meal delivery a step further. Instead of dropping a box off on your front step with a meal that you still have to cook, we do all the shopping and cooking for you. The whole idea around it is great. Of course we’re making money, but we’re also helping people out and doing some good in the world.”
Tornari has filled a number of roles in his culinary career, which includes 15 years at Starwood Hotels, where he worked his way up from cook to executive chef. Duffield comes from an extensive background in health care and is currently a home health nurse.
Through their experiences, both South Jersey natives have seen the struggles that elderly people can have with making their own meals.
“It can be for many different reasons,” Duffield says. “It might be because of the loss of a spouse, especially if it’s the wife who passed and she had done most of the cooking. Or it could be the other way around and now the wife doesn’t have her husband to cook for.
“Cooking can also become a danger as people get older. And financially, seniors are on fixed incomes and if they’re ordering out or going to a diner every night, that adds up. Our service is very affordable.”
According to some estimates, 50 percent of seniors who live at home suffer from malnutrition, which can lead to increased risks for illness or falls. Chefs for Seniors can help put people back on a healthy track, and it’s easy to get started.
After a free consultation—including a discussion of all dietary restrictions—the customer sets up weekly or bi-weekly appointments with Tornari. The menu changes every week, and they typically choose five or six items from a list of 12 entrées, such as beef stroganoff.
Tornari shops for all of the ingredients at the grocery store of their choice, then comes into their home and cooks enough servings for the week. He places the food in special packaging that is freezer safe and microwaveable, and all they have to do is heat it up when they’re ready to eat.
Clients love the delicious meals, and they also appreciate the personal interactions, especially considering the isolation and loneliness that many seniors encounter.
“It’s not just about cooking, but making relationships,” Tornari says. “I don’t just want to cook at their house one time; I want a long-term relationship. We try to take our time and make it an enjoyable experience for the customers.”
Duffield explains that the service is not just limited to seniors, either. A younger person suffering from a disease or recovering from an accident could also benefit from Chefs for Seniors.
“You don’t necessarily have to be elderly,” she says. “If you’re in any kind of situation where cooking is an issue, we can help. It is a service that can alleviate stress for families who are caring for young loved ones inflicted with disease or an accident.”
Barrett Allman, a chef and restaurant owner, co-founded Chefs for Seniors because he felt it could positively affect the physical and mental well-being of seniors. After seeing it take off in Wisconsin—and fielding requests from across the country—he started expanding to other states like Florida, and franchise opportunities are now available throughout the United States.
Allman was especially interested in opening a franchise in New Jersey and found the perfect partners in Tornari and Duffield.
“Ron has been a chef for over 15 years and he has exactly what Chefs for Seniors is looking for; that unique combination of culinary background and skills and a real passion for using those skills to help seniors,” Allman says. “The more we learned about him and Cami, we were super excited to sell them a franchise and also to reach that market. We believe they are going to be very successful and help a lot of seniors there.
Chefs for Seniors
Serving Burlington and Camden counties
Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 11 (February 2018).