Executive Chef Joe Sweeney joined Meadowood only a year ago, but he’s already making his mark on menus and tantalizing taste buds. For Christmas Eve, he has created a brunch/lunch menu featuring holiday favorites from his team members’ homes. Chef Sweeney notes that Meadowood represents as many cultures and communities as possible. “The catering binder is packed,” he notes. “They’re always evolving. They’re always pushing the envelope. I think that’s what makes Meadowood special. It’s the gold standard. They do it right here.”
A good example of “pushing the envelope” is Chef Sweeney’s new Bistro menu, which has received rave reviews. The menu reflects an eclectic, international flair. Starters include Irish nachos and lobster strudel, entrees include a French chicken breast, and sandwiches include a smoked pork banh mi. “Food should always be an experience,” he says. “It should take you somewhere.”
Speaking of going somewhere, Meadowood can accommodate special requests for takeout food. This was especially popular around the Thanksgiving holiday. Some residents wanted a full roasted turkey, some preferred it carved, and others simply wanted some bones saved so they could make soup.
When asked what’s his favorite holiday dish is, Chef Sweeney replies, “I like any dish I don’t have to cook! The one I absolutely love is my Aunt Kim’s broccoli-cheese stuffing.” You’d never guess it’s made with Stovetop stuffing, a bag of frozen broccoli florettes, a can of cream of mushroom soup and grated cheese.
Chef Sweeney understands the memories that food can evoke, particularly in people with cognitive challenges. “My grandmother was just diagnosed with early-onset dementia,” he says. “We will sit down and have a meal, and it evokes memories for her. You can see it.”
A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America (the other CIA), Chef Sweeney had a varied and illustrious career prior to joining Meadowood. He owned a Northern Italian restaurant; opened all of Wegman’s pubs in the Northeast, working with James Beard award winner Greg Vassos; worked with Michelin chef Anthony Keene, head of Gordon Ramsey’s North American restaurants; and served as a consultant and a corporate chef.
In this season of gratitude, Chef Sweeney says he has much to grateful for, including his fiancé Jen Fehnel, who studied baking and pastry at Johnson and Wales (although she’s no longer in the culinary industry). He says he’s extremely grateful to now be part of the Meadowood family and for his recent promotion to executive chef. “At the end of the day, thank you to everyone here at Meadowood for the opportunity to be here, everyone who believed in me.”
Here’s a sneak peek at what’s on this menu filled with mouthwatering food and fond memories:
- For starters (literally), there’s Chuck’s Family’s 7-Fish App Table, inspired by the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Like many Italian-American families, sous chef Chuck Sands’ family celebrates on Christmas Eve with “Festa dei Sette Pesci.” The feast stems from Catholics abstaining from meat in commemoration of waiting for the birth of baby Jesus. In a modern take on the tradition, this “grazing station” puts a smoky spin on the fish and seafood: smoked salmon, smoked white fish, smoked blue fish, smoked trout, smoked mussels, smoked clams and smoked oysters.
- Next is “The Main Event,” including Kendal’s Mother’s Smothered Chicken & Rice, the recipe courtesy of sous chef-in-training Kendal Flemming. Kendal describes it as “very simple, very humble”: lightly fried chicken with a savory gravy over rice pilaf. It’s the perfect comfort food at Christmastime.
- Side dishes include Joann’s Mothers Stuffing, contributed by executive sous chef Joann Reber. According to Chef Sweeney, Joann says that while it’s a classic recipe —carrots, onions and celery — it’s the best stuffing she ever had.
- Those with a sweet tooth will love Rory’s Grandmothers Corn Pudding. Every Christmas, says sous chef-in-training Rory Stallworth, his grandmother makes this treat. So when Chef Sweeney asked for family holiday recipes, he knew exactly what we wanted to make. With a custard base and sweet corn, this pudding resembles a creamy flan.
Of course, the meal ends with hot chocolate and an assortment of cookies. “I love cookies,” he confesses. “I actually have the Cookie Monster tattooed on my forearm.”
Best of all, Meadowood residents can invite guests to join them on Christmas Day for a holiday meal. In addition to creating a one-of-a-kind menu, Chef Sweeney had another goal: to engage his team members. “It’s all about engagement and teaching,” he says, referring to Meadowood’s “teaching kitchen.”