Alex Garcia knows what it means to have a life-long relationship with food—and all the warm, fuzzy feelings that come with it. After coming to the United States in 1989, she embarked on a 32-year-long journey as a chef, which took her from culinary school to owning her own Italian restaurant in New York City for 17 years.
After tiring of cold weather and wanting to spend more time with her growing family, Garcia moved to a job at Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center as the executive chef. This is where she first started learning about how to make everyday meals healthier, as many of her patients required diabetic friendly meals.
The latest stop on her culinary journey has brought Garcia to Arella on Jones, a Houston-area 55+ active adult community located at 12840 Jones Road. Garcia, who started this year as the new head chef, has already developed a reputation in the kitchen—in particular for her homemade pizzas.
“I made my pizza from scratch. I do [each one] by hand and I make everything from scratch. The first time that we [served] it, we sold out,” Garcia said. “They were so happy with the pizza. People were hugging and kissing me and saying they want to be able to cook it at home.”
One of Garcia’s main focuses for the menu at the Arella Bistro, the restaurant inside of the community, is making sure the food is not only delicious, but health conscious for older residents.
Garcia utilizes the garden on site for fresh vegetables and will often make healthy swaps, like using olive oil instead of butter and grilling instead of sauteing. She also makes a conscious effort to try and keep sodium levels low for residents.
“I cover [the food] more with spices instead of salt, and also when I’m cooking with an ingredient like cheese, I try not to put a lot on a hamburger or whatever I’m making,” Garcia said.
Garcia tries to make the menu comforting with a few items the residents might not be as familiar with, like ramen. The bistro is also planning on implementing new meals like Saturday brunch and afternoon tea parties, where they’ll serve croissants, finger sandwiches and a variety of tea.
While residents can simply go down to the bistro to eat, the Arella Bistro also offers meal plans and delivery options for residents who might want to eat in their own homes or serve guests on their own.
“That's what sets us apart is that the dining is optional. It's a la carte, so they can come down just like at a restaurant and order,” marketing manager Mallory Collins said. “If they want to do the meal plan one month and then not do it the next, that's totally okay. The flexibility that residents have here at Arella on Jones is very different from a lot of other traditional senior independent living communities.”
What makes this job stand out to Garcia is the sense of community she gains from seeing the same residents continuously. She also said having the same people dining tends to make her menus more creative, since she doesn’t want them always eating the same meals.
Having diners look at her menu and say wow is one of the things she loves most about the job, not to mention being able to explore her own love of cooking.
What would be Garcia’s last meal if she had to pick, in her own words?
“A big plate of pasta,” she said. “Maybe some chicken, pesto and cream, with linguini.”
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