a healthy Homestead

By Holly Ebel

It was a small but interested group who gathered to watch Mark Beland, the chef at Homestead of Rochester, demonstrate a few cooking techniques and pass along some healthy tips last week. A vegetable wild rice soup, a Thai curry with shrimp and a sautéed banana dessert provided some interesting techniques and some delicious tastings.

Beland, who came to the Homestead from the Owatonna Country Club, showed the participants how easy it is to cook fresh and healthfully. The base for the vegetable soup was made simply with water and an assortment of vegetables — "anything you have works, like carrots, onions, celery" — and then simmered for hours. "The longer the better," he says.

After straining the cooked vegetables out, he added chopped carrots and celery as well as the wild rice to the clear broth. As simple as it was, it was very tasty. He also remarked that this soup can include leftover cooked meats like chicken or beef.


A big fan of Thai cuisine, Beland made good use of fresh vegetables like red peppers and sturdy greens, all stir fried, for his Thai curry with shrimp. In making the curry sauce, he used a simple broth made with water and shrimp shells that added a depth of flavor to the dish. A spicy hot pepper gave it a big kick. It was served over a fried brown rice. He encouraged the use of whole grains as well as oils low in saturated fats like canola, olive oil and grape seed oil.

His dessert was similar to bananas foster (without the sauce and ice cream.) Called rum-grilled banana with honey-rye crepe, it was a nice final touch.

Nothing he demonstrated was complicated and everyone there could go back and have success with the dishes. These classes will be offered from time to time for both residents of the facility as well as outsiders.

So how does a chef from the Owatonna Country Club find his way to preparing meals in an elegant new senior living community?

"I was looking for a new challenge," he says. "It is also not quite as big a change as you might think — everyone here wants good nutritious meals and it is my job to make sure they get them."

He comes with excellent credentials. Beland has been working in kitchens since high school, where he started as a busboy with Perkins Restaurant.

"I was eventually offered a kitchen position and then was promoted to kitchen manager where I stayed for quite a while," he says. "Perkins was excellent training for me because I also became involved with their corporate training. A friend who was working at the Owatonna Country Club told me they were looking for someone so I applied and was made Chef de Cuisine."

There he was given the freedom to try his hand at all sorts of new menus and techniques. "I learned so much there by cooking so many different things — ethnic, new age, pastas, a little of everything," he says.


Among Beland’s goals is to make the residents happy with their meals. "I want them to be satisfied," he says. "Mostly I know these folks like their foods simple and familiar but I am also working toward introducing them to new tastes they might not be as familiar with, like the Thai shrimp curry. Flavorful and healthy."

Holly Ebel of Rochester is a free-lance writer.

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