Advice Independent Living

Lacey Rainey: New Pond Village’s Kitchen Rockstar

At New Pond Village, she gets to be both a Rockstar and a Chef.

Food & Beverage Director Lacey Rainey

New Pond’s Kitchen Rock Star

When Lacey Rainey was a kid, she wanted to either be a rock star or a chef. As the Food & Beverage Director at New Pond Village, she gets to be both. “Even after a long day I leave for work smiling and I come home smiling,” says Lacey, who started her role in the summer of 2023. “It’s the associates and residents, everyone here is so welcoming. It feels like I hit the lottery job-wise.”

Finding Her Passion

Lacey’s path to New Pond was far from direct. She dropped out of high school in her sophomore year, bored of her classes and enrolled in Schriever Job Corps. “I went into the culinary program and got it done in about a year because I was passionate about it and that’s what my focus was.” She also earned a scholarship to the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont and got her chops as a sous chef at the Gardner Ale House. “I was the youngest on the line, I was the only woman on the line for the longest time in the beginning and learning recipes from really great chefs.”

Moving on to the historic Deerfield Inn, Lacey started to work with fine dining ingredients like the ones she used to marvel at as a child watching Iron Chef—morel mushrooms, grass-fed beef and monkfish. She worked special events and even catered a party for Cindi Lauper, “which was like meeting my childhood hero.”

Soon though, the long days and late nights of restaurant life began to wear on her, especially since Lacey was playing gigs with her all-female rock band—the Angry Debutantes—on the weekends. When a friend told her of an opening at a local nursing home, she went for the job. “She said the kitchen closes at 7,” Lacey recalls. “That sounded nice so I thought I’d give it a shot.”

Fresh, Scratch Food

While she made the decision for a better work-life balance, she found an environment where she could be creative and make a difference. “A lot of institutional cooking is premade items—prebreaded veal, prebreaded chicken, or you’re getting frozen vegetables.” Lacey did the math and convinced her boss it was cheaper to get fresh veggies and herbs. The meats were still frozen, “but I said we could bread it ourselves. I retrained chefs that had been there for 20 years and we started doing fresh, scratch food in an intuitional setting and I got out at 7 o’clock at night!”

Residents Are Adventurous Foodies

Lacey’s approach to cooking matches the expectations of both New Pond Village’s dining team and the residents. “What I brought to the table is new menu ideas, new things. Residents at New Pond are adventurous, more so than I’ve been used to in senior living. For instance, we had a honey fig-glazed salmon with a parmesan risotto, made in-house, from scratch. They haven’t had duck in a while, so we’re trying a seared duck with lavender honey over fingerling potatoes with grilled asparagus.  They’re adventurous” says Lacey. “They’re trying different things. I’m even talking about doing a Vietnamese pho and bao buns and they’re excited. They’re really excited.”

Culinary Creations That Spark Memories

By going fresh and flavorful, Lacey eliminates a lot of the sodium, sugar and preservatives that are mainstays of institutional cooking but aren’t healthy. “And health is so important, especially as you’re enjoying your later years of your life.” Even in her short tenure, she’s welcomed the challenge of recreating residents’ favorite recipes from sauerbraten to sticky toffee pudding. “They have taste,” Lacey says of the residents at New Pond Village. When somebody comes here, my chefs and I can create something that can bring back memories. Every meal we cook here makes a difference and it means a lot more than cooking anywhere else.”

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