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At Mt. Vernon of South Park, Great Meals Are Inspired by Memories
By Nancy Kennedy

Many childhood memories are rooted in family and food. Comfort food, ethnic food, and the special dishes reserved for holidays and special occasions reflect the uniqueness of every family and culture. For older adults, the nostalgic recollection of those food memories can serve as a touchstone and social connection in the senior years. Jadranko Jandric understands this special significance of "food memories," and uses them for inspiration as he cooks for the 100 residents of beautiful Mount Vernon of South Park, a senior living community where he has served as Food Services Director for the past five years.

"Food memories are important because they are a link to family," Jandric explains. "Meals are the highlight of the day for the residents here. I like to make old fashioned foods that they are used to, and I enjoy asking residents about the food they like. I go around the community to visit with them and they tell me about their memories of food and the things their mothers made." That might include pasta with meat sauce, fried chicken, tuna salad, meat loaf or chili. Jandric is required to follow the recipes and guidelines of the parent company, Five Star Senior Living, and to accommodate the special dietary needs of residents, but he is free put his own spin on recipes. He likes to make his own bread, for the residents and staff who appreciate the aroma of fresh baked loaves.

Cooking is a second career for the native of the former Yugoslavia, who previously served as a commandant in the Bosnian Army. Following the war, he relocated to Germany for three years, then came to Pittsburgh in 1997, joining a friend who was living here. He found western Pennsylvania very much to his liking, and reminiscent of his homeland. "The climate is similar, and the hills remind me of the place I grew up. I fit right in here. I have a wife, Suzanna, and two daughters, and we live in Brentwood. I have worked for Five Star for 11 years."

For the excellence of his efforts, he has been honored with the Pennsylvania Health Care Association and Center for Assisted Living Management's 2014 Honor Hero Award, which annually recognizes seven caregivers across the state who make extraordinary contributions to improving the lives of seniors. Being named "a hero" for his work as a cook was unexpected for Jandric, especially after years of military service. He is modest about his achievement and is quick to give credit to others. "When I started working at Five Star, there was a big snowfall, about two feet," he says. "I was scheduled to work and there was no transportation. So I walked, five miles each way, in the deep snow. My managers were impressed by that. I like to be in the kitchen with my staff; I cannot do anything without them. I have a team of over 20 people, including high school students. I like to teach my staff, not only about cooking and food service but also life lessons, like learning self-discipline."

Jandric also won the national Chef's Challenge sponsored by Five Star at a conference in Washington D.C., and was given the ALPHA Award in 2012. In addition to cooking, teaching and supervising, he also holds popular cooking demonstrations for residents. "I like to cook in front of them, and they enjoy watching. I put my heart into everything I do."

That is for certain, as is the courage and generosity of his heart. Jandric loves to cook, help people and work with others. "My family was not rich; we stretched food and ate a lot of beans, rice and potatoes. I never imagined cooking for a career, and I never imagined living in the United States. I learned to cook so I could get work to support my family. You never know where life is going to take you."

Mt. Vernon of South Park is operated by Five Star Quality Care, Inc., a national provider of senior living services. Located on 13 beautifully landscaped, wooded acres in the South Hills, Mt. Vernon of South Park is a warm and gracious setting that offers independent or assisted living, memory care, respite and short term care, and rehabilitation. Amenities include restaurant style dining, social and recreational activities, a library plus Internet and educational classes, exercise and wellness programs, and beauty and barber services.

For more information or to schedule a tour, call (412)655-3535 or visit the web site, www.mtvernonofsouthpark.com

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