Sullivan's Gourmet-Style Meals Receiving Kudos
St. Joseph Health Center administrators call the new household homemaker "The Jamaican Sensation." His cooking garners accolades from those who've tasted his gourmet-style meals. Damien Sullivan gets just short of a standing ovation as each meal concludes.
He confesses he does have a secret that makes an ordinary meal something of a specialty.
Born and reared in Jamaica, Sullivan says he learned to cook from his mother who prepared meals for the family.
"When you have to cook for five children, you have to put stuff together and make it taste good," he says. "You learn how to do it with love, and do it fast."
All eyes are upon St. Joseph of the Pines' first "Household Model," dubbed Whispering Oaks. It stretches along the 200 hall. Whispering Oaks is the first household unit being tested under the concept of a "Household Model of Care."
"We are taking a large nursing home and shrinking it down to a more personal setting," says Prentice Lipsey, administrator of health services for St. Joseph of the Pines.
If one wants to find a packed dining room for breakfast and lunch, Sullivan's adjoining kitchen is the place to be. It is there he prepares the meals for Whispering Oaks residents and their spouses that send captivating aromas navigating through corridors not enclosed by the patterned oak double doors. Many have been asking about his secret recipes.
When Deloris Brown, health center dietary supervisor, was asked why, or how, Sullivan's culinary presentations could better that of the kitchen food and the Health Center chef who trained him, she had no answer.
"We have recipes we have to follow," Brown says. "He came to us as a dietary aide. We trained him as a cook. He's a good worker and we miss him in the kitchen. We knew everybody's eyes would be on this area to succeed and that Damien was the man for the job."
The concept of Household Models of Care is an innovative approach to caring for nursing home residents. Creating an environment that mimics their home environment and activities is proving to be a winning venture. St. Joseph officials have planned for the entire long-term care portion of the Health Center to consist of household models within the next three years.
Belle Meade resident and St. Joseph volunteer housemother Marjatta Thamm, admits to having been a bit skeptical regarding any significant transformation from a traditional long-term care hall to a household model of care.
Uncertainty aside, Thamm found Sullivan's accomplishments with the residents and his "real old fashioned-values," to be the perfect companion to her special skills of organizing activities for the residents of Whispering Oaks.
On one occasion, harpist Irene Warthman entertained the residents and associates with melodious delight. Thamm baked one of her famous cakes and joined in the applause to let Warthman know her talent was appreciated.
"It was a joy and a pleasure to share my talent with the residents," Warthman says.
Ten members of the Golf Capital Chorus gathered in the living area of Whispering Oaks at a later date, thanks to Thamm's generosity and organizational skills.
However, Thamm says she gives all the credit for the sudden awakening of Whispering Oaks to Sullivan.
"What a wonderful place to be," she says. "The food is as fine as we get at Belle Meade, even though he's not working with the same ingredients. It is so good when people taste the food and experience the atmosphere. All the ladies want to adopt Damien. He is so kind to them."
From 1999 to 2001 Sullivan owned Fish Mouth Fast Food in his homeland and cooked and served his specialties of fried chicken, rice and peas, tossed salad, brown stew fish and the Jamaican delicacy of curry goat.
He came to Pinehurst to work at the Carolina Hotel in housekeeping but returned to Jamaica, was married and completed a one-and-a-half-year cooking course and came back to Moore County. With a pleasant accent and a look on his face that exudes appreciation for the fact he is getting so much attention for the job he does, Sullivan doesn't hesitate to let everyone know he is in control when it comes to his kitchen. He's protective of every plate, every piece of meat and every herb he uses.
The herbs are the secret of his culinary success, he says.
"In Jamaica, we use much less powder seasoning," he says. "We use more herbs and that gives the food more flavor. I believe in seasoning up the meat and letting it soak in a marinade. By the time it's cooked, it has that delicious taste. It's the love and care and making sure it's perfect."
"These residents need to look forward to something every day," said Sullivan. "It's fun and a joy being out here. It makes me feel good that they like my cooking."
John Brown spends most of his day at his wife's side on the Whispering Oaks hall.
"I can say a lot of nice things about Damien, but the fact that most everyone comes to the dining room for breakfast and lunch shows how well everyone is responding to the change," he says. "Damien does a good job. The food is well prepared and on time. He relates well to people, and there is a family atmosphere now."
Joanna Brown was very complimentary of Damien's soup.
"Yes," agrees Odette Greenfield. "Whispering Oaks has gone beyond my expectations. Damien is a very nice chef and his soups are particularly delicious. "I have noticed the residents eat better since they've been coming to the dining room."
Administrator of household services Raymond Esteves, concurs that Sullivan's cooking and mannerisms draw folks to the dining room.
"Damien gives 110 percent," says Esteves. "Many of the residents have gained weight. They have an incentive to get up in the morning and head for the dining room."
Jeralie Andrews is the director of volunteers at St. Joseph of the Pines.
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