Culinary arts and 'from scratch' foods

Beef tenderloin. Crab cakes. Poached salmon. When it’s time for a special meal, Isaac Strausser and the rest of the Homeland dietary staff roll out the residents’ favorites.

That includes delicacies like crab cakes, served for such holidays as New Year’s Day and Valentine’s Day.

Isaac is dietary/purchasing supervisor, a veteran of the culinary industry who has found his niche at Homeland Center. Here, he puts care into every meal for the residents, while also appreciating the sense of family among colleagues that helped him through a medical crisis only one year after joining the staff.

Isaac is a native of Pine Grove, Pennsylvania. He started working at a hometown restaurant and then got his associate degree in culinary arts through Johnson & Wales University. He enjoys working with his hands in the kitchen and the “instant gratification” from experimenting with new recipes.

“You know right away whether it works or not,” he says.

He worked in restaurants and retirement communities. Working crazy hours at the Hershey Red Robin – one of the chain’s busiest in the nation – and as general manager for a popular Harrisburg barbecue place made him realize the importance of time with family. When a friend told him about Homeland, he took the opportunity.

Though his days start no later than 6 a.m., he’s home in the afternoon. His three kids range from 13 to 23. The 13-year-old is active in Scouting and aiming to become an Eagle Scout, like his dad. Isaac’s Eagle Scout project was painting lines, cleaning, and planting around his church’s new parking lot.

Isaac’s wife is a child care provider whose cooking style differs from his – she cleans every pot as she goes along, while he tidies but leaves the bulk of the washing for the end – so she often cooks dinner.

“She’s very good at what she does,” he says. “I don’t complain about going home and having dinner ready.”

His days at Homeland involve unloading delivery trucks and preparing meals. The key to assuring high-quality meals three times daily in a retirement community is taking the time to get everything ready.

“We do almost everything from scratch,’’ he says.

Residents enjoy the fried chicken. Rachel sandwiches and chicken wings added to the menu recently have been big hits. Isaac enjoys interacting with the residents. He gets to know them and they get to know him.

“It’s their home,” he says. “We want to give them the best service we can.”

Isaac joined Homeland in July 2013. Only about one year later, he started having seizures. Doctors initially told him he had an inoperable brain tumor and only five to 10 years to live. He found a more hopeful diagnosis at Johns Hopkins University, where surgeons successfully removed the tumor.

Then he faced 11 weeks of rehab, relearning how to walk and use his right side. That’s when Homeland colleagues and administration stepped up to support his recovery. Co-workers donated their vacation and sick days to add to his recuperation time. Homeland’s administration eased his return to the job.

“It’s been an amazing place to work,” he said. “Everything the people gave me to get through that was fantastic. To go that far above and beyond was fantastic. I didn’t have to worry about anything. I could just focus on my healing.”

Now, when colleagues need the same consideration, Isaac is happy to give.

“When people need extra time for emergencies, I’ll always be happy to donate,’’ he says. “I know how much that meant to me.”

 

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