Binu Krishnan’s passion and desire to cook, eat and serve great food was instilled in him growing up, spending many good times with his mother in the family kitchen.
“I come from a family and culture where food plays a vital role in bringing people together, in connecting with each other and in appreciating and valuing one another,” expressed Krishnan.
“I have been fortunate to have been supported by my parents to then explore this area further in a professional context.”
Once he stepped foot in Aotearoa, there was no turning back for Krishnan who noted that he was blessed with opportunities and guidance from some of the best in the industry.
Krishnan has been doing what he loves for the past 20 years with experience in food manufacturing, airline catering, restaurants, cafés, and aged care services. He also consults and mentors businesses seeking help in setting up their operations and improving performance. After years in New Zealand, Krishnan moved to Melbourne to test the waters in Australia.
“I initially started to work with a temping agency working for restaurants and airline lounges and various catering businesses. In doing so, I was also offered the opportunity to work for an aged care facility for the very first time,” Krishnan explained.
“I must say I was not very impressed with my very first experience working in aged care. There was a lack of care that went into the preparation of the food for the residents, it was all bare minimum.”
This inspired Krishnan to explore and figure out the challenges in catering for the aged care and retirement sectors.
“I started to work at multiple facilities to better understand the systems and conditions that can inhibit or facilitate outcomes. This also created opportunities for me to work with some reputable service providers which paved the way for the current opportunity to arise.”
Krishnan currently works as Culinary and Hospitality Operations Manager for Donwood Community Aged Care Services Inc in Victoria, Australia. His role mainly involves designing food for the residents, managing the food services, and providing catering to functions, the café, and the community centre. He started at Donwood as an agency chef and while in this role he had the opportunity to cover a chef’s shift that was vacant.
“I started to observe that the residents were enjoying the meals I provided to them and started receiving some good feedback. I was then approached by the CEO, Mrs Natasha Wilkinson who asked me if I would like to join the team. During our conversation, I was very impressed by her vision and the passion that she has for the residents at Donwood. She was very clear about her vision for the organisation and how food plays a vital role in the daily life of our residents. Her principles were well aligned to what I value the most and therefore, I decided to take up the challenge to work with her in achieving those goals and standards.”
It was this opportunity to deliver what the elderly community deserves that attracted Krishnan to his current career but cooking food in an aged care or retirement facility is very complex. The chef and his team must consider dietary requirements, as well as any allergens or cultural requirements. There are also residents with dysphasia, so texture modified meals are needed.
Krishnan pointed out that staff need to be very aware that even good food can potentially be life-threatening to a resident with dysphasia, even a little lump in a pureed meal can cause a choking hazard.
Other important factors of note, according to Krishnan include the importance of ensuring that the residents can connect to the concept of the food being served, so popular and familiar flavours are important to consider. Always use quality cuts of meat and fresh produce and above all, the food needs to be appealing and well presented.
“For an outsider, food in aged care is considered as boring and bland. Whilst there are other factors that impact the quality of food produced, it is mostly due to a lack of education and awareness,” said Krishnan.
“There seems to be a general perception out there that to cook home-cooked meals for the residents, you do not necessarily require high calibre chefs, hence the investment in a chef for an aged care or retirement village is often much lesser compared to restaurants or hotel food production. This then attracts chefs with lesser skills and knowledge. What I have noticed, however, is a recent change that is being brought about within various aged care providers, investing in highly skilled chefs to ensure resident wellbeing and to enhance the dining experience.”
When describing his work with residents suffering from dysphasia, Krishnan talked about the impact on emotional wellbeing, and how residents who have been recently diagnosed may start rejecting food offered to them.
“This transition is not easy for them, so it is really important to make sure the meals are prepared with a lot of care to ensure it is still visually appealing and tasty. This often becomes an exciting space for chefs to challenge themselves to use their skills in creating an experience and mouthfeel with textures that are also appealing to the eyes, yet nutritious and full of goodness at the same time.”
Krishnan would like to change the perception that being a chef in an aged care or retirement facility is boring by creating excitement around the food he serves. He would also like to see the standards of foodservice in the aged sector on par with the rest of the hospitality industry, for the sake of residents, but also to attract young professionals into this culinary area.
“Through my experiences, expertise, and knowledge, particularly focusing in the area of aged care, I want to be able to empower, educate and motivate chefs to be a part of the aged care industry; to help change the perception out there in Australia and New Zealand,” concluded Krishnan.
“I am also looking at partnering with Paper Plane, a food manufacturing company based in Auckland to manufacture nutritious meals including texture modified food which is cost-effective end visually attractive for the aged care and retirement villages across Aotearoa.”