When Montez Crawford, Regional Culinary Director, was in kindergarten, he watched Sesame Street every day after school. But before Big Bird came on screen, The French Chef with Julia Child aired first.

Crawford soon became enamored by the iconic chef’s lessons and began connecting them to the happenings in his grandma’s kitchen in the next room. He has been hooked ever since.

“It’s been my passion for as long as I can remember. I love to create through food,” Crawford says. “When I was in culinary school, when we learned how to julienne vegetables or make a rich stock – they were techniques I was already doing. I just didn’t know the name for them.”

He has enjoyed a diverse career in the culinary world with experience in restaurants, catering, special events, cooking competitions and more.

But he’s felt most at home in Atria kitchens, and since 2004 has helped create exceptional dining experiences for those who call the senior living communities home.

“I discovered Atria through a friend,” Crawford says. “Before then, I hadn’t considered cooking in a senior living environment. But when I toured the kitchen and saw the menu preparation – it was just like a restaurant. And the residents were awesome. It’s been off to the races since that day.”

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Crawford has been busy. After serving as head chef for an Atria community for several years, he spent a period traveling throughout the country assisting communities with their culinary programs. He served as a division culinary specialist, and for the past year, a regional culinary director for the Holiday by Atria brand.

With so much diverse experience, Crawford believes senior living to be the ideal place for those passionate about food but weary of the grueling hours and stress of restaurants kitchens.

“When you factor in the PTO and the benefits, it makes so much sense for cooks that need a better work-life balance,” he says.

Crawford says the rewards of cooking for a community come into sharp focus around the holidays when food takes center stage.

One Thanksgiving stands out in his memory, when a community experienced a sudden staffing shortage that jeopardized its holiday meal plans. Crawford stepped in to save the day.

“I went overboard,” he recalls of the feast. “The salad, the rolls, the casseroles – everything was on point that night. A resident came up to me afterwards with tears in her eyes and told me it was the best Thanksgiving she ever had. That meant everything.”

His most prized recipe for Thanksgiving with his family? Citrus, herb, and tea-brined turkey, smoked over hickory and pecan chips for about 15 hours.

“It’s a labor of love, but it’s worth it, trust me,” Crawford says.

Love goes into much of Crawford’s labor. It’s been the driving force behind a lifelong passion for food, and the joy it brings to people’s lives.