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Community gets taste of top chef creations at Merrill Gardens event

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Community gets taste of top chef creations at Merrill Gardens event

Merrill Gardens Head Chef Jose Morales holds up several tasting menus from the Third Annual Taste of Merrill Gardens Top Chef Competition, held last week. Morales prepared an extensive assortment o...

JASON CAMPBELL/The Bulletin


POSTED April 24, 2013 1:50 a.m.

Chef Jose Morales knows how to pick a menu.

Mango chicken. Maple chipotle salmon. Dr. Pepper braised brisket.

As the Head Chef at Manteca’s Merrill Gardens Retirement Community, he gets plenty of practice coming up with new and exciting things that he believes the residents will enjoy – whether it’s a new twist on something as easy as a salad or something as flashy as a New England lobster.

So when he got the chance to come up with a menu of his own to submit for the Third Annual taste of Merrill Gardens Top Chef Competition, he jumped at the chance – pairing his ideas with other like-minded food masters from around the Western United States.

While his didn’t end up on the voting menu – the panel of chefs picked the recipes that they felt would be easiest to prepare for large groups of people – Morales said he was just happy to be able to prepare a meal that the community could enjoy.

The entire community was invited to sample the menu last Wednesday afternoon, free of charge, and cast their vote for a winner in each of the categories.

“Everybody really submitted good recipes – we just picked those that would be the best to make for lots of people and some of them took a lot of time and effort,” Morales said. “My favorite was the crème brulee – I like sweets. But we have to make sure that everything is ready – we serve 130 to 140 people every meal, so it was a busy afternoon.”

Morales had to start preparing the special offerings at 5:30 a.m. with his kitchen staff to make sure that everything was ready for the nearly 200 people they expected to filter through the dining room at lunch time.

That meant 150 pieces of chicken, 150 pieces of salmon and 6 whole beef briskets.

And we’re not talking about your standard cafeteria-style preparations here.

Morales says that last month he prepared a lobster dinner, and it’s not out of the ordinary to throw a filet mignon feast into the mix – adding a fine-dining twist to the experience that residents get to enjoy on a regular basis.

And Lue Rush gave it her stamp of approval.

“The food is always very good,” she said – adding that while she skips breakfast, lunch and dinner are always on her itinerary. “The people that work here are all so nice, and they mix things up when it comes to the menu. I like it.”

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