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Harrie’s taking lunchtime to the next level

Harrie’s taking lunchtime to the next level

Harrie Geraerts is an acclaimed chef, a hospitality guru and an all-round food expert. He’s also Arvida’s new national hospitality manager. We spoke to Harrie about how he’s transforming the mealtime experience at Arvida communities, including his most recent work setting up Café 52 at Copper Crest in Tauranga.

Q. What’s your mission at Arvida?

My role applies to all Arvida communities. I’m not just interested in the kitchens, where food is prepared and cooked; I’m also working to transform the service levels in dining rooms.

As I explain to the people I’m training, we all have different experiences, different backgrounds and cultures. The thing we have in common is our concern for the wellness and happiness of our residents. Together we look at how to correctly set a table, how to lay out the cutlery and how to make meal times more enjoyable. Every detail counts, which is why we’re elevating the lunch service. It’ll be more of a ‘dining out’ experience with special touches. Each community will come up with their own way of doing things, determining what a ‘dining out’ experience means to them.

Our aim is to create a meal experience that residents look forward to. To do this, you have to have passion and willingness. After so many years working in hospitality, I know that people get immense satisfaction out of doing things well.

Q. Why is lunch getting the special treatment?

Over their lifetime, the highlight of our residents’ day was when the whole family was together during dinner. There was no Google, there were no mobile phones. People connected over food and had time for conversation.

In a care situation, that daily highlight meal is better served at lunchtime, when everyone’s feeling their best. So we’re going all out to make it wonderful, complete with special touches. Breakfast and dinner are still nicely presented, but more casual.

Q. Tell us about Café 52 at Copper Crest

Café 52 has all its equipment and systems, now we’re just settling into the daily routine. However, we’re paying a lot of attention to what residents are enjoying the most.

Favourites include our bacon and egg panini – it’s almost legendary - and the pot pies. Popular items like these will always be on the menu, but other dishes will change out according to the season.

Cakes and slices served at Café 52 are all baked on site. We have a baker working for two full days a week, then we do top-up baking as required.

Q. What do you look for when hiring a chef for an Arvida community?

We don’t need chefs with lots of medals. We need good cooks who can live up to the expectations of our residents. I hire people who cook from the heart and honestly care about ensuring every mealtime is a positive experience.

Q. What did you do before you joined Arvida?

I was born and raised in the Netherlands, and I’m a chef by trade. I did all my qualifications in my early twenties, back in Europe, including a qualification in institutional kitchen management.

After graduating. I worked in restaurants, including a couple of Michelin star establishments, then I moved to New Zealand. At first I worked in hospitality, then I started my own food-related business, which was sold about 12 years ago.

The next few years were spent managing Treetops in Rotorua, a luxury lodge that hosts rich travellers. I also helped Kinloch Manor in Taupo get set up, which is part of a high-end golf resort.

I had to return to the Netherlands for a while, because my mother wasn’t well. Then, back in New Zealand, I worked as head chef at a retirement village in Tauranga. It was a battle, introducing new ideas and values, but 16 months later we won village of the year. I wasn’t planning a move, but Arvida tapped me on the shoulder. The more I learned about the Arvida concept, the more appealing the role of national hospitalality manager became. And now, here I am!