Since he was 17 years old, Ramon M. has pursued a passion for food because of its unmatched ability to bring people together. Originally from Los Angeles, he recently swapped coasts to bring his flavors and flair to the residents of Atria Southpoint Walk in Durham, NC.

His cuisine is already earning rave reviews, and recently he answered questions about life in Atria’s kitchens.

You have extensive experience in the food service industry, but how does cooking in a senior living community compare with other culinary roles?

In restaurants, you may have one or two regulars who come every day, but most only stop in occasionally. When you prepare food for a community, your customers are the same each day, so consistency is the greatest virtue.

From the recipe to the presentation to the seasoning, every meal needs to be consistent, because our residents are savvy and have good palates. If something is off, they’ll let you know. But it’s also extremely rewarding and keeps you at the top of your game.

How do you approach preparing food for a large group with many different tastes and preferences?

Every month we have a community meeting called “Food For Thought,” where residents give feedback on our culinary program. I take my notes from that meeting and use them as guidance when I create menus.

Of course, not every meal hits the same with everyone, but the feedback is still important to find themes about what’s popular. I also circulate through the dining room during lunch and dinner. First off, it’s a lot of fun. But secondly, that’s the best time to get opinions, especially if residents are trying a dish for the first time.

How do you reflect your own style and creativity on the menu?

The first thing that comes to mind is with presentation. The old saying, “You eat with your eyes,” is true. I’m always instructing staff to be careful and deliberate when composing a dish – it needs to look a certain way and evoke a certain feeling when served. And flavors too, of course. I definitely bring my West Coast background into the kitchen.

What cuisine are you most passionate about?

All types! But at the moment, I’d say Italian. It’s so versatile and satisfying. You can take something fairly simple like a rich tomato sauce and take it in so many different directions. During the winter months that sort of comfort food becomes even more appealing. And for many residents, Italian food is connected to a lot of fond memories from childhood, which makes it even better.