While some chefs fall into the role by accident, Sharon Pearson knew from a young age that she wanted to work with food. Born and raised in Kuwait, a small country in the Middle East, she was inspired by the vast array of spices and local ingredients that surrounded her.
Later, at the age of 21, she left Kuwait with a view to holiday in Altea, Spain and then move to Los Angeles, where she would pursue her career. However, having been to Altea many times as a child, the Spanish village was once again quick to capture her heart, and before long she made the decision to abandon her original plan and build a new life there.
“I will always consider Altea my home,” says Sharon. “I raised my two sons and trained as a chef there. I started with a British Army chef who trained me and encouraged me to be the chef I am today.”
In 2010, Sharon headed to England, where her family is originally from, and later spent four months training at the iconic London venue that is Fortnum & Mason.
“My training involved learning presentation and picking up ideas and skills,” she recalls. “I also learnt the importance of good husbandry and how to present food and save foods hygienically. I then worked at Heathrow in the bar and was lucky enough to meet and cook for the rich and famous. In those days we talked to the guests and created what they wanted and fancied, obviously working with the ingredients that were in the kitchen.”
In 2015, Sharon spotted a vacancy for a head chef at Ashford House, a Surrey-based residence which offers 24-hour nursing care to people living with dementia. Having built a rather glamorous career beforehand, Sharon says she felt the time was right to “work for the community and the elderly.” It was the perfect decision, as it is clear she truly enjoys working at the home and taking care of the residents.
“I love talking to and interacting with the residents, their families and friends,” she reveals. “It’s great to see them enjoy their meals. I love creating something that is healthy, appetising and nutritious. I also enjoy running my own kitchen. My training has allowed me to keep a good kitchen and I have enjoyed building a team. I am an open book, if the team wants to learn I am happy to help them.”
Sharon is constantly driven by a passion to deliver dishes that residents will enjoy – indeed, she finds it “distressing” when a person chooses not to eat – and changes the menus every three months in line with the seasons. She also meets regularly with the home’s nurses, carers, housekeepers and managers to ensure she can provide dishes that meet the individual needs of service users.
“The residents are offered food five times a day plus evening snacks,” she reveals. “Offering a balanced, nutritious diet is part of the resident wellbeing. I like to suggest ideas to the residents, and am given time to talk to them to find out what their needs and requirements are.”
While her all-time favourite meal to cook is a roast dinner – after all, “you just can’t beat it” – she often arranges themed events to make mealtimes more exciting.
“These events prove popular and help me to observe how residents enjoy different foods,” she says. “We have recently had a Spanish theme, 70’s theme and English tea parties – anything to stimulate our residents.”
As someone who is dedicated to her craft, Sharon has continued to push herself since joining Ashford House and in 2019 was shortlisted for Barchester Healthcare’s very own Chef of the Year competition. She also scooped the Care Home Chef/Cook award at the Great London Care Awards 2019, part of the Great British Care Awards. The judges said that “Sharon demonstrated her passion for delivering high quality food for her residents, and with support from Barchester, for groups in the community.” Unsurprisingly, she lists her award as one of her greatest achievements.
“I am very proud of the reputation I have built within Ashford House and obviously winning the regional finalist award for the London region and then being placed within the final,” she says. “It was a great event, I didn’t feel disappointed that I didn’t win, I felt a winner by just being selected. I felt I had my cake and was allowed to eat it.”
Despite being a highly talented chef, as her competition achievements have shown, Sharon is always open to feedback and is truly appreciative of the support given to her by those at Barchester Healthcare.
“To work at Ashford House with the Barchester Healthcare team and framework always helps me,” she concludes. “I cannot fault the help and advice I receive from the hospitality teams within the group.”