Changing Lives of those with PWS through the Kitchen: A Chef Paul Donahue Profile

April 18, 2017

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Today marks the first of a four part series about the Latham Centers menu and Chef Paul Donahue. Since 2016 we have been introducing our blog readers to Chef Paul and his passion for cooking healthy and innovative meals for residents at Latham Centers. Working with direct care staff, Latham cooks, nutritionists and PWS Specialists, Chef Paul has revitalized the dining program, and both students and adult residents are participating. Every Tuesday for the next four weeks we will give you insight into Chef Paul’s history, as well as the new dining plan. We will exemplify how this program is life-changing for all the residents at Latham. You’ll not only pick up on his passion for cooking but you’ll also learn some great tips that will help anyone lose weight using sneaky substitutions, (and creating more awareness about the food we put in our body.)
Part One: About Chef Paul Donahue
1. How long have you been cooking?
I was sixteen when I took my first cooking job. In total I have been cooking for 32 years. I’m lucky that cooking comes naturally to me. I always felt that I could work on a line, and improve what they were already doing.
2. What is your favorite thing to cook?
It changes over the years, just like everything, for everyone. At one point I could be into French technique, and then change to Italian. Once I get a feel for a new technique, I intertwine it with everything that I knew before. For example, I fell in love with Creole which is a combination of old-school French technique and ‘dirt.’ I loved the powerful flavors – the base for every food has such attention the detail. Since working at Latham Centers, I’ve been challenged by and interested in the “PWS” style of cooking.
3. What was your experience prior to coming to Latham?
Prior to coming to Latham I had a couple different Head Chef roles at different restaurants across Massachusetts. Then I went back on the line at a local restaurant so that I could spend more time with my growing kids.
4. What attracted you to Latham Centers?
Latham offered me the full package. I now work hours that fit with my family’s schedule and can still work in the kitchen. It’s the best of both worlds.
5. Has working at Latham Centers changed you as a chef?
There’s a couple things that you need in order to successful as a Chef. If you lack timing and attention to detail you’ll never make it. At Latham attention to detail is essential as the safety of the residents are dependent upon that. There’s allergies, there’s restrictions, and there’s dietary needs, like calories. I’m now thinking about ways to make the life of the Latham staff easier through meal prep time, and ordering. There is so much to take into consideration now for Latham, as compared to when I was working for any restaurant. The big picture? Never in a million years would I have guessed that I could go from a Cape Cod Chef to having an impact, globally for PWS. Latham has absolutely changed me as a chef. Throwing together a shrimp scampi a couple years ago included wads of butter, now I wouldn’t dream of that, even at home – the trick is to eliminate all the excess and have it still have it taste good. At the beginning, the goal was for students to lose weight, or for staff to be able to control weight loss and weight gain. As a result we have seen effects on our residents that we were only hoped for. We couldn’t have planned it to be this successful, but it’s truly changed the agency. The one thing that is bitter sweet is the kids that don’t want to go home because they want our food – now we’re in the process of crossing Latham food plans over to home visits!
6. What is a particular example of how dining has changed at Latham Centers?
When I started, the kitchen staff bought fresh herbs regularly. We would get mint, etc., then I spoke with Maura Smith, Director of Vocational Services, who implemented the Mint Garden. Now we’re saving around $1,000 a year on mint and have created a great vocational activity. This allows the staff to spend more time with the kids. When I notice something that small, having such an impact, you ask yourself, where else can I do this?!