Chef Focus: Carl Fox
Hooked by his clear passion for both cooking and baking, Bryony Reid virtually sits down with Carl Fox to find out more about how he’s breaking care home catering stigmas
I discovered Carl Fox by happening upon a raffle post on social media that showed beautiful cupcakes and a chance to raise money for charity. As someone with quite the sweet tooth, I was intrigued and did a little bit of searching. Soon, I had an inkling of a chef hailing from the East Midlands who is making leaps and bounds in Ridgeway Care Home, which falls under the umbrella of Sudera Care Associates. With a maximum of 37 residents on-site at any given time, Carl has a high demand when serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, along with an afternoon snack or two! It’s a challenge he looks forward to each day and serves homemade meals with a decorative flourish.
Let’s Bake History
When it comes to baking as well as cooking, Carl certainly knows his stuff! From cupcakes to multi-tiered cakes, finesse oozes from his work. With his grandmother owning a bakery and his grandfather being a butcher, the urge to make and serve food has always run in the family. His mother worked in the family-run bakery after school and passed her interest and passion onto Carl. After studying food tech in school for both GCSE and A-Level, he went straight into Sudera care to begin what has been a prosperous career mapping three decades and counting! Carrying on what seems to be a familial passion, Carl’s daughter shares his love of cooking, and works weekends alongside him in the kitchen amidst studying food tech for her GCSEs.
Despite the challenges staff shortages are throwing in the way of care home chefs, Carl constantly strives to deliver “excellent catering for people in care” and remains utterly in love with his career.
“I always try to make things look as nice as possible because part of eating is through the eyes,” says Carl. “I cook from the heart with love and passion - if you don’t have these it will never work!”
This is brought out by cooking homemade meals for every resident. “We serve a cooked breakfast every morning and around 10:30am, I usually prepare a snack of toasted teacakes and crumpets with butter, sausage rolls, and pain au chocolat.”
But Carl’s favourite dish to serve“is fish served on greaseproof paper that looks like newspaper, with a slice of lemon and a dollop of tartare sauce with mushy peas and crinkle cut chips.”
With the freedom to cook homemade meals, the menu at Ridgeway is full of variety, from an old-fashioned roast dinner with the trimmings, to slow-cooked braised beef with creamy potatoes and seasonal vegetables. With Carl’s background in baking, it’s no surprise that there is “always homemade desserts on the menu both hot and cold!” From heart-shaped scones for Valentine’s Day, to rock road tray bakes.
While homemade food can be delicious and aesthetically mouth-watering, one of the biggest challenges faced is the diets that often need to be modified to suit a resident.
“Clients’ diets sometimes need to be modified or altered so that they can swallow and the challenge is making the food look as appetising as if it’s of a normal consistency and this can often be difficult to achieve.”
When chefs like Carl lay out their menu, this is a massive thing to consider in the care sector. However, Carl actively seeks out the best dietary advice, and often invites GPs to visit and have lunch at Ridgeway! Even when it proves difficult to gain client feedback, Carl says that the best thing about being a chef, for him “is seeing the enjoyment in a person’s face when they eat the food I have prepared”.
Smashing the Stigmas
When checking out Carl’s socials, I knew I wanted to talk to him about the stigmas surrounding care home catering. Oftentimes, words like ‘bland’ or ‘tasteless’ are tagged onto food that is served. Seeing those stigmas actively being broken by Carl online through posts showcasing cakes and food he serves in Ridgeway was what ultimately made me approach him. I went into our conversation asking about the stigmas specifically — I wanted to know what he thought of them and what he actively does to keep breaking them as a care home chef.
“We need to do our best to make sure the barriers and stigma surrounding poor care home food is squashed,” Carl says firmly. “I feel like having the support of others can spur me on to push harder.” And Carl is on a path to get that support having set up the ‘I’m a Care Home Chef’ Facebook group with over 40 members. The group is to showcase meals being served in care homes and to inspire chefs to incorporate changes to their menu if they’re not already implemented. At its base is the fact that there is support for chefs in care homes from others who know what sort of challenges they face.
Working closely with a local dietetic department, Carl and his “excellent tight-knit” team work to create menus that are constantly developing and keeping in line with regulations. With a menu that can be tailored for residents with gluten-free or dairy alternatives, Carl keeps an eye on calorie intake, hitting targets and ensuring his menu leaves residents satisfied and happy with each mealtime. If there is something a “client wants specifically that isn’t stocked by a supplier at that time” Carl will happily make it his mission to find what they want in a local shop to make their day that bit brighter.
With social media, a community is really taking off as care catering continues to face more challenges with the changing times, diets, nutritional demand, and higher numbers of residents being admitted to care homes. It’s safe to say that with Carl, food is cooked to enjoy, not simply to be eaten as a routine habit, and when it is cooked by chefs still passionate about cooking, it makes all the difference.