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Michelin star dining and Formula One catering can’t compare to cooking at PJ Care

Fri 14 May 2021 - posted by PJ Care
Our catering manager, Darren Klein, has a wealth of experience under his belt that includes everything from working on street food trucks to Michelin-starred dining, cookery schools to catering for Formula 1 teams.

But the best career move he made was coming to PJ Care.

He started his cooking career with us as a commis chef aged 19 and learned his trade before leaving to expand his experience.

More than a decade later, a chance call from our Chairman, Neil Russell, brought him back.

“I knew what it was like here, what the company stood for, its ethics and what it means to work for PJ Care,” says Darren.

“Since I’ve come back, I have a shared vision and goal with Neil as to what standard of food we want to offer residents.  This sits at the heart of each decision.  We make sure that the food we provide is in line with the company wanting to be the best supplier of everything in our field.”

Meeting every dietary need

Darren manages a team of 21 staff across three kitchens.  As well as ordering stock, managing his budget and recruiting staff, Darren writes the menus and liaises with our in-house speech and language therapist (SaLT) and dieticians.

“Our residents have a range of needs and abilities when it comes to food,” says Darren.  “We’ve had training sessions with our SaLT so we know how best to present food for people who have dysphagia, or difficulties with swallowing.

“My team is very passionate about knowing more.  We are always trying new things and we mould all of our own texture-modified food and make sure there is an explosion of colours on the plate.”

Darren’s aim is to organise specialist training for his staff with the goal of them being able to run classes in the preparation and serving of food for people with dysphagia. 

Creative cooking for cultural diversity

There is a wonderful diversity of cultures at PJ Care, both among the residents and staff, and the catering team love to reflect key dates and celebrations with the food they make.  Darren says these events are when his chefs’ imaginations come to life on the plate.

“Each dish we serve has to be our best dish but I know that when I give the teams and chefs the free licence to express themselves with a theme, that is when they really get creative!  And if you’ve seen any of the photos – trust me – they taste as good as they look!

“I couldn’t be more proud of my team and the passion they cook with on a daily basis.”

The catering team worked with our training department to create a virtual dining experience so staff could see what mealtimes were like from a resident’s point of view.  This helped them to assess every aspect of the eating experience to make sure both they and the carers were providing the very best experience for everybody.

Darren also likes to spend time with residents at mealtimes to get feedback on the food and see what people enjoy.  He finds time to chat and listen to the stories and memories the food provokes.

“Working here gives me the opportunity to give something back.  We don’t do this job because we have to, we do this because we want to and you know you are in a good place when it doesn’t feel like you are working because you love what you do so much.

“PJ Care feels like working with one big family.  Everyone is pulling in the same direction and all with the same goal of doing our very best for all of our residents.

“I find that you are trusted and respected to do your job and this allows me to really flourish having that support not only from the board and other managers but from my amazing staff too.”

A passionate home cook

Darren still loves to cook when he gets home, where creating food is a chance to stretch his skills.  Indian food is his passion – he makes a mean chilli butter chicken with braised saffron rice and homemade Peshwari naan bread – but says there’s no better feeling than cutting open the crisp pastry jacket of a traditional beef wellington.

“Food is a way of bringing people together and being able to do that as a chef – both at home and at work – is a very special thing.”

If you'd like to see more of the food Darren and his team create, head to our Facebook page.