My name is Dennis Simonson and I am the Executive Chef/Food Service Director here at The Gardens.
I have been here for ten years and really enjoy cooking and taking care of the elderly. I have a very
extensive background dating back to age sixteen, when I washed dishes at a Casual Steakhouse in
Danbury. I quickly moved through the ranks into management and decided to go to Culinary School and
graduated with honors from The New York Restaurant School of Manhattan. I held a number of jobs
and positions in many establishments, from small, 40-seat exclusive restaurants to high volume, casual
concept restaurants. I worked for Sodexo Food Service for fifteen years, managing some of their most
prestigious accounts. I also bartended for years to satisfy my love of entertaining people. I have owned
and operated several restaurants, the last one a rock'n'roll-themed Brewpub with home-made beer, great
food and live music. Realizing after our fourth child that it was time to have some sort of normal
schedule, I sold the restaurant and got a job at another assisted living.
It was a typical assisted living facility with an outside food service contractor hired to take care of the
residents' dietary needs. The chef was a cook and didn't really take pride in his work, serving lots of
frozen foods, pre-made sauces and desserts, boxed potatoes, etc. Eventually, this contractor was let go
and I took over the foodservice. My plan was to keep the workers that had pride in their work, build a
better operation and save money at the same time. I began serving fresh foods-meats, vegetables and
desserts served with pride by a caring wait staff. It wasn't hard to make the previous food service look
bad as the food quality and service dramatically improved. I met frequently with residents to make sure
they were getting what they wanted. At the same time, I was easily coming under budget because I
wasn't buying expensive pre-made foods, sauces, soups, desserts, etc. "Fresh" and "home-made" is less
expensive, but does require more labor and a willingness to put out the best possible product. That is
why we go to Culinary School, right?
I decided to take my next job here at The Gardens. I was very determined to make it a showcase for how
an Assisted Living food service should be, using all of my past experiences. We are fortunate to have a
fantastic Executive Director in Diane Manzi, RN, who has let me do what I do best. I brought my two
best employees from my previous position: Nick Virzera, who is our Dining Room Supervisor and
Luciana de Oliveira, our very talented Assistant Chef, who specializes in baking and cake decorating.
Together we work hard to make sure our residents are getting the best possible food and service on a
daily basis. Our residents are family and that is how they should be treated. We understand that meal
times are the most important part of the day, not only for nourishment, but for socially interacting with
What's on the Menu?
We use a well-balanced weekly menu that features a special entrée for each meal. The residents can
choose to have all or part of the meal and/or choose from our extensive alternative menu. The noon meal
is their biggest meal of the day, as it affords our seniors the opportunity to burn off more of the calories
during the day. (We should all do this.) We are very flexible and will make just about anything for a
resident if possible, even if it's not on the menu. Most facilities use a cycle menu, which is basically
rotating the same 4 menus throughout the year. I write a new menu every week to take advantage of
seasonal foods and specials from our vendors. Residents are also encouraged to give us input on their
menu. I am always happy to put things on the menu by request. We also take care of all special dietary
needs, including altering the consistency of food if necessary. In addition, there are always betweenmeal
snacks, fresh fruit, cookies, etc. available for our residents.
Some major points:
- We seek out the freshest and purest ingredients.
- We purchase organic produce covering the "Dirty Dozen" list.
- We avoid the use of GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
- We make our own stocks for your home-made soups and sauces.
- Almost all of our desserts are made in-house.
- We use fresh, natural chicken, raised with no antibiotics or hormones.
- All seafood is purchased fresh; nothing from China or farm-raised from a third-world country.
- Expanding our Farm-to-Table program-for the past two years, we have had raised gardens
outside where our residents are able to help us grow many vegetables and herbs. This will be
expanded and plans are in the works for a year-round greenhouse to be built.