Darryl Young’s culinary team at The Palms at Ponte Vedra — an assisted-living and memory care facility located on Solana Road — works daily to ensure residents enjoy a homey atmosphere, one-on-one service and restaurant-quality meals that meet their individual dietary needs.
Young, who served as a general manager at Holiday Inn for 10 years before entering the culinary business, said he worked with Executive Director Barbara Matteson in Jacksonville for three years before transitioning to a company in Atlanta. Eventually, Matteson offered him a job at The Palms at Ponte Vedra that he couldn’t refuse.
"I enjoy it," Young said. "I like the atmosphere, I like the residents. When I started out about five years in, the assisted living, I was there, and it became routine and it became, 'Today we're going to do meatloaf and tomorrow we're going to do this and we're going to offer grilled cheese – and we're going to offer an omelet.'"
Young reinvigorated the Palms’ culinary department by creating a restaurant-style atmosphere where everything is made-to-order and prepared on the spot. Consequently, chefs there have been given creative freedom to put their personal stamp on their work while meeting the dietary needs of the community.
"It can be challenging at times," Young noted. "The diets that we offer are a no-added salt, and then we do no concentrated sweets, so when I do my desserts, I always do something for sugar-free."
Young’s dining area features dessert options prepared by the culinary director himself at the crack of dawn, each day. His pies consist of citrus, fresh herbs and other healthy ingredients. Additionally, Young caters to the health needs of individual residents by making softer, easier-to-consume alternatives.
As for the menu, Young said it changes five or six times per year depending on the community response. The culinary director regularly meets with the most vocal and opinionated residents to gauge their likes and dislikes.
"I have a group of seven residents that I switch out and we sit down and we plan the menu," he said. "Some things they like to see, some things they like to see go away and I get their input."
There is no extra cost for residents to enjoy the Palms’ dining options, Young added. The culinary director noted that packages at the Palms include the three meals per-day offered in the dining area, various activities, individual care and a personal living space.
Along with providing quality meals and service, Young said he is focused on building a positive rapport with residents and getting their family members involved in the community.
"I have a good rapport with every resident involved and probably about 85 percent of the family members involved," he said. "The reason why I built that relationship is because I want the resident to know it's okay to ask for something, it's okay if something isn't to their liking and actually be comfortable with my staff and myself because we are in their home — and we're here to work around the needs of the resident."
The culinary director holds monthly gatherings, called "Food for Thought" meetings, to hear concerns from residents and collect feedback. In addition to working in the kitchen, Young said he enjoys talking to residents and hosting festivities at the facility.
One of those festivities, currently scheduled for March, is a competition series between family members of residents called “Top Chef.” There are currently six family members who are set to compete against each other over a five-week period. According to Young, the events are designed to "keep it entertaining" and mix his "well-balanced" menu with recreational activities for the whole family.
Young’s menu at The Palms features daily specials and “always available” alternate entrees, such as seared pork chop, chicken Caesar salad, grilled hamburger, lemon pepper grouper, grilled three-cheese sandwich, lemon balsamic tilapia and more. The menu also features heart-healthy items such as a chef salad, fish with brown rice, marinated chicken with spinach and vegetarian pizza on pita bread, among other items.
For more information on The Palms at Ponte Vedra, visit www.palmsatpontevedra.com or call (904) 686-3700.