An Abergavenny care home chef who has campaigned to demonstrate how good food contributes to people’s well-being has been shortlisted for a top award.
Kyle James said it was an unexpected stroke of luck which led to him finding a job which merged his two great loves – cooking fantastic food and caring for people.
The Head Chef at Foxhunters Care Community home, Llanfoist, has now made it his mission to provide residents with the best dining experience possible, always catering for individual dietary needs.
After just six months into the job, his person-centred approach has led care home bosses to recommend him for national recognition at the 2022 Wales Care Awards
Supported by lead sponsor Ontex UK, and organised by care industry champions Care Forum Wales, the awards celebrate exceptional work of those in the care sector.
Kyle is shortlisted in the Excellence in Catering category, sponsored by Harlech Foodservice.
The winners of gold, silver and bronze will be announced at a glittering ceremony which all nominees are invited to attend at Cardiff City Hall on Friday, October 21. The host for the evening will be popular tenor, Wynne Evans, aka Gio Compario from the Go Compare TV advertisements.
Kyle, 36, is delighted to be shortlisted and is especially proud to think he is following in the footsteps of his late mum, Marlene, who worked as a nurse but was also passionate about cooking.
He said: “It’s as if it was meant to be. Mum loved cooking and as a family we enjoyed big family meals together. I used to help mum cooking and on leaving school I went to culinary college before working in hospitality for a few years.”
Eventually he changed direction and applied for a job in the care sector, working his way up to the role of a senior carer.
He said: “While doing that I got to know the kitchen staff and became increasingly aware of the importance food can play in a person’s overall health. It’s not just the nutritional value of ingredients but the whole experience of eating with others, providing food with dignity. It’s especially important in social care.”
When a vacancy occurred for a chef at Foxhunters – part of Dormy CareCommunities – Kyle applied.
He said: “I felt with my combined knowledge of catering and care sectors I could make an important contribution.”
His determination to improve menus made an immediate impression on Foxhunters Home DirectorLeah Mort and Dormy Care Communities Chief Executive Helen Davies-Parsons.
Helen said: “Kyle has worked hard to create menus to meet all dietary requirements, using locally sourced seasonal produce. We recently admitted a new resident who was on a dementia journey but holds an understanding of how he is changing in relation to this.
“He read a book about how diets can help with dementia and Kyle took the time to listen to what this gentleman shared and helped create a special menu tailored to his dietary requests.
“It reflected Kyle’s person centred approach. He has a real understanding of how different foods, diet and nutrition can help varying health conditions.”
Kyle, whose hobby outside work is sugar craft, even regularly takes it upon himself to create special dishes or cakes for occasions without being prompted.
He is especially determined to help residents who have severe difficulty with swallowing, have strict diets, or are only able to eat puréed food.
He said: “It’s so important to present food which looks as near to the non-pureed versions as possible. It must look appetising and familiar, presented in an inclusive way so affected individuals feel comfortable dining with others on non-puréed meals.
“It’s about dignity and self-esteem. It’s crucial to remember that eating together should be a social experience, remembered fondly, not something to be feared or which leaves people feeling isolated or stigmatised.”
Kyle still enjoys meals at home with all his family who get together at his dad, Lionel’s, for a big Sunday roast.
He said: “Many of those in our care will have also done this with their loved ones. It’s amazing how memories can be triggered by food and flavours. I chat as much as I can with residents and ask them about their favourite foods. They’ve taught me a thing or two. One lady told me how she loved something called seed cake. I discovered it’s made with caraway seeds so I made one for her.”
Mario Kreft MBE, Chair of Care Forum Wales, said the aim of the Wales Care Awards was to recognise the unstinting and remarkable dedication of unsung heroes and heroines across Wales.
He said: “The social care sector is full of wonderful people because it’s not just a job, it’s a vocation – these are people who go the extra mile for others.
“During the Covid crisis, this fantastic workforce rose magnificently to the challenge, putting their own lives on the line to do everything they possibly could to safeguard the people for whom they provide care.
“Unfortunately, it has taken a global pandemic for many other people to realise how important and how significant our social care workforce is.
“Their incredible contribution was summed up best in the powerful and emotive words of the song, Heroes of our Heart, written by the acclaimed poet Mererid Hopwood and sung by Sir Bryn Terfel, which was set to the famous tune of Men of Harlech. The message that the diolch should last forever is one that we should never forget.
“If you don’t recognise the people who do the caring you will never provide the standards people need and never recognise the value of people who need care in society.
“All the nominees deserve to be lauded and applauded and it’s a real pleasure to honour the contribution of all the finalists.
“I congratulate all the individuals who have shown outstanding dedication and professionalism. Every one of them should be proud of their achievement.
“They are Wales’s finest.”