Executive Chef Jim Smith Keeps our Seniors Happy and Healthy at Vi in San Diego
She spent quite a bit of time at Vi before making her decision, meeting other residents and the wonderful staff, and she got more and more excited about life here. But the one thing she mentioned over and over was the food. “The FOOD!” she’d say every single time I spoke with her. “It’s so delicious and fresh!”
So this week I came out to help make the final push to get her happily ensconced in her new home. I wanted to check out this food I’d heard all about. And, by golly, she was so right!!!
Executive Chef Jim Smith has been at Vi for almost 8 years. Originally from New Jersey, Chef Smith started out washing dishes at his parents’ establishment at the age of 15. He attended culinary school in New Jersey and worked in several kitchens. He joined Hyatt Hotels in 1986, and lived and worked in different regions of the US, including Boston, San Antonio and San Diego. So he can make a perfect clam chowder, and he knows his Mexican cuisine, from a TexMex barbacoa to a West Coast fish taco.
Chef Smith decided to work in this senior community because his family needed a less hectic schedule than the demands of being an executive chef at a busy hotel. He has come to find that there are many other benefits to working at Vi, primarily the ability to establish strong relationships with the residents. “They have great stories, great lives,” he says.
And he can give them the foods they love in the three restaurants he manages at Vi. He always makes comfort foods, like spaghetti and meatballs, or mac and cheese, and his roasted chicken has the perfect texture, juiciness, and seasoning. But he also likes to make the classics, like osso buco, which he can do in the most upscale of his restaurants, “21,” on the top floor with amazing views. “Many of the residents have lived and traveled all over the world, so when they tell me my rabbit confit is the best they’ve ever had, it makes me happy.”
Chef Smith has the advantage of living on Southern California, where so much wonderful produce is available all year round. He uses HAACP-certified food purveyors to provide safe food products for his clientele. He makes 600 – 800 meals per day for the approximately 500 residents. Many of the breads and breakfast pastries come from a local bakery, including a chocolate babka that I regret not trying this time! (I had too much fresh raisin bread on my plate.) He also likes to use hydroponic spinach and greens for his salad to provide nutritious, clean foods that still taste good.
As a testament to Chef Smith’s talents, his restaurants provide a warm, welcoming center of this special community. The breakfast room is full and sunny, and people sit together to chat over morning coffee and a fresh muffin. I saw friends meeting up for lunch, inviting newcomers to join them. Fresh cookies are served at teatime, when people can come downstairs for a chat and a cup of coffee. And Friday seems to be a big night here at Vi. I saw groups of people dressed in their finest clothes, meeting up at the elevators, and ready to go for a night-out, right upstairs at “21,” with its exquisite views and delightful menu.
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