Listening Is the Secret Ingredient
It is a common sight in the spacious dining hall at Capitol Ridge at Providence. A resident takes a seat and before they ask, a server drops off an orange juice, iced tea with lemon, or perhaps, a cup of their favorite yogurt with fresh blueberries.
“Our servers know the residents,” said David Silva, dining services director at Capitol Ridge. “They make connections with them.”
The celebration of “Culinary Arts Month” allows the Benchmark family to pause and celebrate the dedication, hard work, and high skill set on display from those team members preparing and delivering meals to residents throughout our communities. At Capitol Ridge, for example, it is also a time to appreciate the power of human connections. Connections made not by chance, but rather, by design.
David has been at Capitol Ridge for 22 years. He knows the importance of and prides himself on making such connections. And while he is a skilled chef known for mouth-watering, pan-seared scallops and a roast tenderloin that is out of this world, it is his ability to listen to and connect with Capitol Ridge residents that fuels his success and that of his team.
“When I put out a great meal, I am connecting to them,” said David. “I study the residents. They become family. I get out of the kitchen and talk to them. I hear their stories. We have conversations about their lives during World War II. I have heard them talk about the Depression, and how they had to wait for food.”
Those stories shape David and allow him to fine-tune his approach. He explains that the residents are largely from a generation that does not accept the wasting of food. A heaping plate, for example, does not impress.
“They do not want to waste,” he said. “If you put just the right amount of food on their plate, they feel comfortable.”
Make no mistake. David is a master chef. Drawn into the restaurant industry as a way to make some money, he began washing dishes at age 12. When a cook called out sick one night, he recognized the opportunity and pleaded with the owner to give him a chance in the kitchen. The diners loved his work and David was hooked. He has never looked back. The Providence native hones his skills by reading magazine articles and watching cooking shows to generate ideas – then taking those ideas in his own direction.
David and his team of five chefs, several servers and kitchen help, produce 300 meals per day at Capitol Ridge. In addition to the daily meals, David and his team produce food for community events and have shined at annual competitions, such as one sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association, where Capitol Ridge has consistently taken home the “Best Taste” honor over the past decade.
Because he grew up down the street, David often runs into familiar faces and families among the Capitol Ridge residents. That connection, too, is a source of inspiration in the kitchen while he prepares a chicken and broccoli dish or creates the alfredo or marinara sauces that adorn his pastas.
Dori Laack, director of community relations at Capitol Ridge, marvels at the chef’s commitment and the cuisines his kitchen produces.
“David’s commitment not just to our residents, but to the quality of food he serves is a breath of fresh air. He not only takes the time to really get to know each resident’s likes and dislikes, David cares about them.”
Maybe it is the local connection, the fact that he grew up in the neighborhood, but David is at home when he arrives to work each day.
“During the pandemic, we had very little turnover,” he said. “I can’t say enough about my team. Everyone stood by me and has given 110 percent. As for Benchmark, I believe in their values. We share a passion. They give me all the tools I need to do the job.”
David, of course, is referring to food and supplies and the kind of tangible support all employees desire from their employer. But he arrives at Capitol Ridge each day with a special something. It is his ability and willingness to step out of the kitchen and directly into the lives of the people he serves. He listens. That has made all the difference.