Q&A with Tibor Paller (2019)
Tibor Paller is a chef, educator, mentor & blogger and has become the go to expert on texture modified meals for health and aged care industries. He also runs the hugely successful Facebook page, Tibor’s Kitchen.
We sat down with Tibor in 2019, where he shared with us his ideas, solutions and the challenges faced by those working with food in aged care.
1. What originally inspired and continues to inspire your passion for food and cooking?
I became a Chef because I was told that’s what the country needed by the Central Planning Office of a communist Hungary. The choice was made for me and it was not negotiable in a dictatorship. You simply did what you were told.
But in my case it was an inspired decision made by the grey bureaucrats. Quite soon I have discovered that freedom of expression existed more in cooking than anywhere else in a rigid planned system. Where individualism was forbidden, I could always come up with creative new dishes. Where resources were limited, I have learned to recycle material in new ways. Where I could not travel beyond the boundaries of my country, I walked the streets of Paris with Larousse and Escoffier. Quite soon I was in love. My fellow chefs were my kin and the kitchen, my new country.
This love of freedom continued long after the walls came tumbling down. Being a Chef means being free and be at my absolute best. Creating something that brings joy to my customers is a noble purpose that doesn’t allow for compromise. The temporary nature of our creations allows for rebirth and for new ideas and staying forever young. How good is that?
2. What is your philosophy regarding food in aged care?
Aged Care food was quite horrible for a long time. Nursing homes were modelled after hospitals where Clinical Care is the undisputed main event and food is simply nourishment for the body and nothing more.
It took a whole new generation, the baby boomers to change that perception.
Aged Care homes are exactly what the name implies. Homes that should smell, feel and taste likes homes. Our cooking should reflect the most important thing our customers want from us. A continuation of life as before with great home cooked meals with an occasional trip to a fancy restaurant or another country, all from the same chair.
3. What do you believe are the greatest challenges facing chefs & cooks in aged care today and how do we improve or solve these issues?
The issues are many but underfunding catering services is probably the biggest. An aged resident’s day is predominantly occupied by eating and other food related issues. Yet, the national spending average on food is only $6.08. A Whopper without fries will cost me more.
We simply have to spend more on staffing and resources. And we (very) desperately need to invest in new technologies and smart equipment like the Rational SelfCookingCentres and the VarioCookingCenter. And we need oodles of education all around how to use this great equipment to their fullest potential.
Aged Care providers need to invest in up skilling their staff and in the collective knowledge base. We have to work smarter and not harder. We have the best tools so let’s use them.
4. What is the general feeling of residents towards your approach to food? Any particular stand out comments you have received from residents?
My memorable moments are many. There is some magic happening in any odd day. It could be serving the perfect soft poached egg for someone who has been getting kiln-fried objects previously. It could be a Crispy Skin Salmon filet in a place where only processed fish existed before. The rewards are all around us. We only need to look at the empty plates.
But my most treasured memories always involve my most vulnerable customers. Those who live with memory loss and live in environments that tend to infantilise them and denies choice.
Some years ago, we have started a buffet breakfast where we had a rigid plated meal tray service before. One day we switched over to a full buffet breakfast service and I can still hear one of our customer, Annalise saying – I feel like a woman again – simply because she could make her own toast. Her joy was unmistakable, beautiful and it is my most treasured moment.
5. Your reformed pureed food has captured the imagination of the industry. What benefits does this have on residents?
The benefits are many. There is lot of bad practice out there where lunchtime returns are pureed imperfectly and in the process diluted by water and adulterated with potato starch to increase volume. The resulting blobs have questionable nutritional value, poor optics and most ends up in the refuse bin. And all the while our customers have chronic weight loss. So the number one benefit is restoring nutritional values to meals by adopting the good practice of texture modifying the regular menu, the one everyone else without medical conditions get.
By reforming meals, we are not about to fool anyone. We know that we can never be able to completely duplicate most items to the level where the difference cannot be told. That was never the aim. For most of us the capacity of knowing what’s on the plate is so taken for granted that we never think of it until it is taken away. By putting recognisable shapes on the plates we restore choice. With choice we restore the power to make decisions. With decision-making we restore a person’s dignity.
6. What are your hopes & goals for the future?
I’m hoping to see a fully funded and exciting aged care future that maintains the quality and continuity of individual lives. The transition should be home to home with all the goodness of the home, garden and kitchen left behind carried over. We are trusted to be the custodians of all these values for our customers. I’m wishing for a future where we will be worthy of this trust.
7. What has been your proudest moment?
I’m still working on it.
8. What role do your RATIONAL units play in your kitchen?
They make all the difference. The workhorses of every kitchen, RATIONAL Combi ovens are also the most efficient steamers due to the built in water tank. Steam is the best way to regenerate texture-modified meals so it’s crucial to have the very best to ensure my customers safety.
I have now also used the VarioCookingCenter and love their versatility and simplicity of operations. The built in programs are amazing and a real time saver in our busy kitchens. Whereas I have started my chef life with pots and fry pans, I now feel like a magician where at the push of a button, good things happen.
Companies like RATIONAL enable us to achieve more and better than ever before. This is real partnership and as for myself, I’m grateful for it