Chef Constance Lewis takes pride in preparing delicious meals!
Constance learned to cook by doing. Her mother worked two jobs, and her brother was a high school athlete, so it fell to Lewis to feed him and her younger sister every night.
“He loved fried chicken,” she recalls. “He loved the leg and the thigh. Either that, or he loved chili. He would sit down with a bowl of chili and a whole pack of crackers.”
On May 1, 2017, Connie Lewis celebrates her 20th anniversary of working at Homeland Center, cooking delicious, nutritious meals for residents.
Lewis learned to love cooking because people enjoy it, and “that made me want to do it even more,” she says. “I cook because I love to feed people. I have two daughters that grew up with me cooking for them. I still cook Sunday dinners, and they love it.”
Lewis, a Harrisburg native and graduate of Bishop McDevitt High School, was curious about Homeland when she first walked in to fill out a job application. After that, she called the dietary director “and bugged him and bugged him, and he gave me a job.”
She started in the kitchen doing “dippings,” a term for setting up desserts and side dishes. She had never cooked for large groups, but she jumped right in when Homeland asked that summer if she could prepare soups and sandwiches for the evening meals. Then, subbing for the day cook turned into her full-time job.
“It took me a while to catch on,” she says now. “I had to learn how to get it right; I wasn’t used to cooking large, but I knew I loved to cook. I would go home and think about ways to do it right. I got better.”
She learned how to create flavor with herbs and seasonings, and without the excess salt that many residents can’t have. Residents, she says, “are not shy” about their opinions – or their gratitude.
“Every day, they let me know that they enjoyed the meal,” she says. “If they have an issue, they’ll let me know that, too. I apologize and let them know I’ll try to do better next time.”
Residents have a voice in Homeland’s five-week rotation of menus and so does Lewis. The number of residents ordering a certain dish is her gauge of its popularity and helps determine whether it stays on the menu. Residents can also request items not on the menu, or even bring in their own food – perhaps a juicy steak they purchased – for cooking in the kitchen.
“It’s all about the residents,” Lewis says.
Lasagna is a favorite dish. So is fried chicken. “We don’t serve the residents anything we wouldn’t eat,” says Lewis. “That’s our motto.”
Lewis works from 4:30 a.m. and until 1 p.m., cooking breakfast and lunch. During meals, she goes out and talks with residents, about the food, vacations, or anything else.
“I like to talk to them and listen to their stories,” she says. “Working here has been like a dream come true. I’m so happy that I make the food and it’s good, and everyone enjoys it. That makes me proud.”