Recovery Gastronomy

I often hide in the kitchen when I need five minutes of quiet. By default, our incredible chef has to listen to my latest complaints and challenges. I am double his age (in fact more than double) and have come to terms with the fact that life is totally unpredictable and our plans are only made to be changed most of the time. He is still slowly coming to terms with this reality. Yesterday we chatted about what Dylan envisioned when going to the States to study at culinary school, compared to what he is doing now.

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Dylan is a top chef, and in my opinion, any restaurant in the world would be lucky to have him. In his position as chef at the Recovery Lodge, he now deals with unique and usually quite non-fine dining challenges. Imagine what his week is like when his instructions  on Monday are to cook for someone who has recently had his stomach removed (due to cancerous tumours )and has to eat a small amount every waking hour .All food has to basically be bland, sugar-free, fat-free, loaded with kilojoules and protein, liquidized but full of nutrition and must taste amazing.

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He also has to cook for a lovely man we are looking after for end-of-life care who gets terribly nauseous if he does not eat, but does not want to eat anything, and a side effect of his meds is that everything tastes awful. I watched Dylan this week work tirelessly to find something the guest would like. Somehow, he manages this every single day.

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If that is not challenging enough, there is also a lady who is allergic to just about everything, has high blood pressure, is vegetarian and almost everything she puts in her mouth makes her feel sicker than she already does. Somehow, Dylan just takes all the meals she sends back in his stride, and sends something else. He never gets angry or frustrated. He is just wonderfully willing to learn, does research and works with an amazing dietician to get things just right.

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I told him that whatever they taught him at culinary school, they did not teach him this level of patience and determination. That is purely his disposition.

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I don’t think Dylan thought he would work in an environment like the lodge, and probably thought of working in a restaurant or hotel, but how can your job satisfaction compare? In a Michelin star restaurant you might plate beautifully, you might cook and season perfectly and even get your own TV show, but here, Dylan literally keeps people alive with what he prepares.

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Earlier this week, an end-of-life patient was very depressed. Her days are long but she knows her lifespan is short. She did not feel like facing a small group of friends that came to play Mahjong with her as they used to do every Thursday while she was still healthy, but what could have been seen as a sympathy visit quickly changed when our guest was able to welcome her friends at a beautifully set table, in a peaceful garden where Dylan served Confit duck crepes with pistachios and red wine cherries, followed by homemade tiramisu and an espresso. They all forgot very quickly that she is ill and just enjoyed each other’s company and the fellowship around the table.

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The smells that welcome you when you step in to our space are not chemicals or medicine. They are the smells of freshly baked scones, lamb roasting or cinnamon pancakes that remind you of home and comfort.

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In the past month alone, Dylan had to cook for an old American man, a buff, ripped Canadian here for lipo-suction, a Mozambiquan diplomat, a lady from Malawi that fell from her horse, a man from South-Sudan the colour of charcoal, a pale Dutch man with a mother of a moustache, an Australian surfer, a tall lanky woman from Sera Leone, a farmer from Zambia and the most beautiful woman from Ethiopia. They come from far and wide and with them they bring their tastes and preferences. Throw in to that equation their illnesses, allergies and dietary requirements as prescribed by their doctors,and you have yourself a challenge much bigger than you could ever find on Master Chef.

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Food is one of the last things you can control, and we do not underestimate the effect this has on your recovery or your journey during end-of-life. We value our guests’ input and strive to make each meal and snack a wonderful experience. I love what Dylan serves our guests, but I also love how he has created his kitchen to be the heart of the lodge (I suppose, just like a home). We all find a bit of solace and peace there, share many laughs and I can assure you, the best gossip takes place right there while he is baking and stirring.

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