soul food

Food is one of life’s great pleasures – and HESTA Aged Care Awards Individual Distinction winner, Mark Moran Group Executive Chef Gordon Manuel, believes it should be enjoyed at every age.


Gordon was recognised for providing innovative aged care dining and culinary experiences that promote residents’ enjoyment, health and positive ageing.

Creating meals that are nutritious, delicious and visually appealing — and modified to meet dietary requirements — is a key challenge in aged care catering. Gordon and his dedicated team have overcome this by applying a fine-dining lens over how meals are prepared and served to residents of the group’s aged care homes.

“We believe good food is key to wellbeing and positive ageing,” Gordon says. “I’m passionate about creating excellent meals using locally grown and sourced produce for maximum nourishment and wellness.

The spice of life

“A key objective of my work is to deliver variety for all residents, irrespective of their care needs. Each day, my team and I transform the dish of the day into a remarkable modified meal. Residents can sit with their families and friends and eat a similar meal, rather than be segregated due to their dietary requirements. This not only offers residents appealing food but also supports their dignity.

“We take great care to trial each recipe, and replicate its presentation. So if lamb chops are being served, the modified meals are presented to look like a lamb chops!”

Gordon also creates his own powders to enhance the flavour of foods, which can help stimulate taste buds impacted by medications.

This painstaking attention to detail is repaid daily. “To see a resident eat a meal that they have perhaps not had in a while, cooked authentically and tasting just as they remember it — and you can see it in their expressions — is the most rewarding feeling a person can imagine,” Gordon says. “There are also huge rewards when relatives thank you for looking after and feeding their loved ones, and in seeing my team’s compassion and respect for residents.”


A place at the table

And the team seeks to offer that same sense of joy and nostalgia to residents in end-of-life care and their families, by preparing a meal from the resident’s childhood.

“It’s well documented that a feeling of familiarity often brings peace, so we look to evoke familiar smells and tastes. We work with the resident or their family to choose a dish that reminds them of a happy time in their life. We then prepare and cook the meal in their room, with all the familiar aromas they’d remember from cooking in their own kitchen. This has created a powerful palliative care experience for residents and families at a difficult time.”

Food as connection is a recurring theme in Gordon’s work. He regularly runs seasonal menu tastings, food classes and information sessions, and recently introduced an ‘Exciting the Senses Chef meal’ is to welcome new residents with their favourite dish, tailored to their country of origin and/or heritage.

Gordon will use the $10,000 prize money from proud award sponsors ME – the bank for you – to help his passionate advocacy for ageing well reach even more people. “I plan to research and implement ways to improve meals within aged care and to extend services to home care clients - they too should be able to receive optimum culinary experiences,” Gordon states.

“It is an immense privilege to win this award. My team and I are so proud of our craft and we bring that to everything we do for residents every day.”

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A story worth celebrating?

Health and community services is full of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, day in, day out, across Australia. That's why we came up with the HESTA Awards Program.