The Kitchen Community at Spring Lake Ranch

The Kitchen Community at Spring Lake Ranch
Tracy Crelin, Food Services Manager

I began cooking at Spring Lake Ranch in May of 2008 under the leadership of Barbara Favreau, the Food Service Manager. When Barbara decided to leave her position in 2019, I decided to step into her role thinking it would be a fun and challenging new adventure. So far, this new position has proved to be both! Barbara was a great manager. She had high expectations but did not ask anyone to work harder than herself. As I got into my new role, I soon realized even more how much she had on her plate, and how good she was at her job.

The rest of the kitchen crew are incredibly talented and hardworking, and I’m grateful to share our space together. Meredith Pratt, the wife of our Shop Crew Manager Ray, applied for a chef position less than a year ago, and I love the fact that Ray encouraged her to do so. This is a true testimonial to the joys of working at the Ranch. The funny thing is, despite Meredith being a wonderful cook, she had never cooked meals professionally. She is doing a great job expanding our breakfast repertoire and is a natural leader.

Jin Hee Dezero filled the final open chef position last year. She immigrated to the U.S.A. 16 years ago from Korea, and has added exciting Korean dishes to our menu, including a community favorite of bibimbap. Her food is delicious, and she works incredibly hard – she can often be seen checking in with tables to see how they liked her creations

In our typical staffing set up, one Rutland Aftercare client runs the morning kitchen crew four days a week. He trains residents as they work together to set up the dining room for lunch; replenish the hutch with fresh fruits, cereals, condiments, teas and sweeteners; do dishes and pots and pans; and other prep work. Our kitchen assistants also normally include three Rutland Aftercare Program clients, one Cuttingsville resident, and one outside hire. They prepare and set up the salad bar, make the salad dressings, assist with prep work, and set up the lunch buffet.

However, during the time of Covid-19, we faced several shifts in the way we work together and share the food we make. Due to safety precautions, our SLR assistants were not able to come in, but luckily we were able to supplement this shortage with some of the remaining staff on the hill – we’re thankful for their flexibility and quick learning skills! The three of us on the core team have also had to alter our responsibilities – some of us have to take on more menu planning, with others needing to do more ordering. Luckily, anything we need from the outside has been easily attainable, and our local supplier, Black River Produce, has had some great specials – although due to our revised safety precautions, the kitchen staff now have to bring in all the orders themselves, which can amount to a lot of hauling!

The residents have been positive and resilient during this time, and are an inspiration to us all. A big change to our usually communal mealtimes involved splitting lunch into two seating shifts to allow for everyone to observe the “six-foot distancing” guideline. Additionally, instead of our typical “serve yourself” buffet, we’ve had designated staff serving, in order to take additional sanitary precautions.

Whether we find ourselves in the middle of a pandemic or not, the Ranch is proudly very self-sustainable and primarily focus on fresh Ranch-produced meals – for example, our meat is truly farm-to-table. Farm Crew provides us with pork, beef, turkey, and eggs, and, in this upcoming, year we will raise our own meat chickens to add. This year, also started serving our own pork kielbasa, beef kielbasa, and beef chorizo. As an added farm product, Farm Crew Manager Carl made plans to start growing shitake mushrooms this past spring. They are quite expensive, so we don’t buy them often, but we will see more of these tasty and nutritious mushrooms – grown on our own property!

Gardens Crew, led by Lisa, provides the kitchen with fresh produce during the height of the season. Now that we’ve hired a Gardens Crew Assistant to help out in the People’s Kitchen, we look forward to having more canned and frozen SLR-grown produce available year-round. It’s so nice to be able to label our menu cards “Ranch Grown.” Gardens Crew also provides a 4 p.m snack, as well as homemade granola and pesto for our menu and the Rutland Farmer’s Market.

Woods Crew, led by Doug, keeps us swimming in maple syrup and apple cider for use in our kitchen. Both are full community efforts. We usually get about 300 gallons of cider which we serve as often as possible and is a staple for special occasions.

Shop Crew continually produces chairs for the dining room. They made several prototypes before deciding on the design and have been working away on replacing the old ones. Everyone comments on how comfortable and well-built they are!

My love of self-sustainability and the ultra-local continues to my life at home. My husband Ed and I have a “homestead” and strive to raise most of our own food. We have a beautiful Jersey cow who gives us milk which we use to make lots of dairy products including cheese and yogurt. Our bunch of laying hens sometimes give us too many eggs and other times like to play hide and go seek with the eggs as free rangers do. We raised turkeys and sheep when we were tired of pork! Additionally, we have a large garden that, like the Ranch, provides us with much of the vegetables we need throughout the year.

I’m always proud to work at Spring Lake Ranch and, although it has presented its own challenges, I’ve been especially proud during Covid-19. To watch our community come together to continually and safely serve excellent, self- or locally produced, delicious meals is a real treat. It takes a village to make sure all the work gets done, and it takes a village to prop each other up during these ever-important opportunities when we can sit down, eat together, and enjoy each other’s company. I’m looking forward to what lies ahead.