Chef Sal and The Alden Network: The Perfect Recipe to Healthy Senior Living

SHARE Chef Sal and The Alden Network: The Perfect Recipe to Healthy Senior Living
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Chef Sal Martinez started as a part-time prep cook for one of the largest senior health care providers in the Chicagoland area, Alden Network, while attending the Art Institute of Illinois when he realized he was pursuing the wrong passion. Now, he is the organization’s Corporate Chef giving residents an elevated five-star restaurant-style fine dining experience and serving aesthetically pleasing but, most importantly, delicious and nutritious meals for over 20 years.

But Martinez didn’t get to where he is overnight, it took dedication and the support of his family and the Alden Network to become the talented chef he is today. He’s worked in kitchens his entire life, from assisting his mother and grandmother as a child to part-time jobs at 16. While attending the Art Institute, Martinez was the prep cook for Alden Gardens of Waterford Assisted Living Facility. After deciding to leave the Art Institute and pursue a degree in culinary arts, he enrolled in one of the top culinary programs in Illinois at Robert Morris University in DuPage. Martinez juggled a full plate with attending school full time and working for Alden full time.

“I used tuition reimbursement,” said Martinez. “The company appreciated me and what I wanted to do, so it worked hand in hand to have a family and pursue a career as a chef.”

The Alden Network’s Tuition Reimbursement Program provides continuing education opportunities for employees looking to enhance their skills and take their careers to the next level. The program enables employees to put their skills to use while in school and upon completion with the chance to advance through their Career Advancement Program.

Martinez’s dedication and talent earned him the head chef position responsible for opening several of Alden’s senior luxury rehabilitation and health care centers, the first being Alden Estates of Shorewood in 2011.

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“Prior to the pandemic, we used to have a waiting list for residents and their families to dine with us,” said Martinez. “It was packed; we were like a steakhouse on the weekends.”

He also opened Alden Courts of Huntley Memory Care as the Executive Chef and Alden Estates of Huntley Rehabilitation shortly after.

“I never felt like I was missing out on cooking in a restaurant setting because of the demands and expectations set for the level of food we provide to the residents,” said Martinez.

The Alden Network maintains a high standard for the level of care provided to their residents, but that also applies to the quality of their meals and dining experience. Thus, they’ve developed a Fine Dining Program comprised of five-star restaurant-style dining featuring four-course menu options developed by a registered dietitian and prepared by an Executive Chef trained under Martinez. In addition, at some Alden locations, residents are greeted by a hostess and escorted to their seats, followed by an attentive waitstaff to tend to their needs.

Nutrition is vital for recovery and maintaining a healthy life, so Martinez and the Alden Network’s registered dietitian team collaborate to help seniors reach and maintain their health goals using researched-based practices and methods proven to assist seniors at any stage of health. For example, some of Alden’s memory care facilities incorporate sensory stimulation to cue mealtimes. Research shows the release of citrus during mealtime increases appetite. They provide Mediterranean-influenced menu options to improve brain health, and meals are served on bold-colored plates to entice consumption. Their approach is centered around maintaining the resident’s dignity and overall health.

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Seniors at the Alden Network can always expect to have their dietary needs, preferences, and restrictions met. Martinez works with the culinary team to release seasonal menus with a monthly rotation so residents always have a choice in their meals.

“We always take preferences into consideration when creating menu cycles, so there is good diversity in our planning and food options,” said Martinez. “We just like to make sure everything we do is elevated with proper cooking technique.”

Martinez likes to share his knowledge and techniques with up-and-coming chefs of Alden through training and education.

“I enjoy mentoring younger chefs and teaching them different techniques,” said Martinez. “I have trained and mentored over a dozen dietary aides into chefs and some even into Executive Chefs throughout my career.”

As long as Martinez is at Alden, he plans to keep the Alden standard of healthy living and healthy eating alive. And, as a master fruit carver, his dishes are always requested for special occasions, events, and holidays. So switching careers proved to be one of the best decisions Martinez made. On top of being the Corporate Chef for a leading healthcare provider, he is a master fruit carver and featured holiday chef for Whole Foods Market.

“I always cook to make people happy,” said Martinez. “I love the artistry involved in cooking. After switching majors, I like to think I’m still an artist, and only changed my canvas to a plate and my art supplies to food.”

For more information
To learn more about Alden’s 5-Star dining or opportunities for tuition reimbursement, visit aldennetwork.com or call 800-291-5900

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