From restaurateur to celebrity cook, Maggie Beer’s innate zest for food has, for years, enchanted the hearts and souls of Australians just as thoroughly as their palettes.
In 2010, she was announced as Senior Australian of the Year, and while such an honour would often be considered the pinnacle of one’s career, for Beer this unofficially marked the beginning of a brand new chapter.
Requested to speak to an audience of 1000 aged care CEOs after her Australian Day honour, Beer began to research the status of nutrition in aged care.
Immediately, it became clear to her that the industry was in dire need of help.
“I realised there was a real need,” she tells Aged Care News.
“There were great things that I saw, and there were terrible things that I saw — and the terrible things are not acceptable.”
Determined to turn the industry around, Beer established the Maggie Beer Foundation (MBF) in 2014, with a mission to enrich the lives of older Australians by reforming unsatisfactory approaches to cooking.
And providing aged care chefs with rich education and encouragement was the top priority.
“[Aged care chefs were] all passionate and wanted more knowledge, and they also wanted support, because they were often not considered very important in the hierarchy of things,” Beer notes.
“Many of the cooks and chefs currently in aged care have no formal training in hospitality and are expected to learn on the job.”
Since 2019, the MBF has been consulting with academic bodies and aged care providers across the country, proudly releasing its first series of 11 online modules earier this month.
Developed in partnership with Altura Learning and William Angliss Institute, the program is a world-first, comprising 30-minute online, video-based modules all specifically tailored to the unique requirements of cooking for people in aged care settings.
“We have been accumulating knowledge for seven years and that knowledge has come from experts of nutritionists, speech pathologists, oral health, people, dieticians… including knowledge from our board members, several professors on the board that work in the field,” Beer explains.
“We then put this knowledge of the science and the nutrition together with the skill of cooking to get the maximum flavour.
“It really was about marrying the science with our passion for seasonal, fresh ingredients, and ways of cooking them to maximise the flavour.”
What would be on the menu today, as per Beer’s ethos?
“It just happens to be quite a bit cooler today where I am, and we are in autumn with winter approaching, so I think if I encompassed [the MBF philosophy] in one recipe, it would be a soup, based on chicken stock made in the aged care home — no boosters allowed.
And to have a mixture of legumes, perhaps barley and chickpeas, so that you have flavour and protein — particularly from the mixture of the legumes and the base of the chicken stock — and you have the sense of beautiful cooking, the memories of slow cooked meals in winter and all of those things.”
An appreciation for the many cultures present in our facilities nationwide was a key element incorporated into the modules, Beer adds.
“It is so important to have cultural diversity.
“If you could imagine someone who is Asian in a home that is very Anglo, how they would just not have any feeling of familiarity, of comfort, of nostalgia — the importance of that to a person’s wellbeing is just so vital.”
Thus, being finely attuned to the cultural needs of each aged care facility’s unique cohort is essential for aged care chefs to truly engage and satisfy the elders in their care.
“There must be diversity, but you have to also think that there needs to be a sense of familiarity and to ease them into things that they would find unfamiliar by making it tantalising,” Beer says.
Furthermore, engagement with aged care staff does not stop the moment the training modules are completed; Beer hopes to cultivate a thriving aged care chef community.
All participants of the online learning program will be welcomed into the Maggie Beer Foundation Professional Community, an online forum where workers can access hundreds of aged-care appropriate recipes, in addition to being able to ask questions of Beer and other chefs in the community.
“I think that’s the most important thing … it gives them a great feeling of solidarity and a touch point as you used to be able to ask questions that are concerning them, difficulties that they’re having and to share successes,” Beer says.
“There’s nothing better than having a template of what really works somewhere, and when you have a network of individuals who really care and want to know more and more, it is a very powerful thing for everybody.”
Proceeds from sales to further research and programme development
While the newly released educational program was developed from an initial $500,000 grant from the incumbent government, the Australian Labor Party has recently pledged $5 million over three years to the MBF, if elected.
Beers says that any funds received — including the profits from the online modules- are used for the sole purpose of continuing research and development of new educational programs.
“We are so thrilled that aged care is getting this attention because it is an absolute need, and we will work with every party and organisation who wants to do better in aged care.
“It must be bipartisan. This is not just one side of the of the spectrum. This has to be an issue that has to be fixed for everybody.”
In future, Beer is also interested in initiatives that will engage aged care residents in the cultivation of fresh foods, on-site.
In 2017, MBF provided grants to a number of aged care homes to develop ‘Wellbeing Gardens’, an initiative Beer is greatly hoping to expand in future.
“Food is the centre of the plate for me … but the full dining experience encompasses things being part of your life, every day.”
Where safe and appropriate, Beer believes aged care residents should be empowered, active members of the culinary journey, sharing the ethos of Italian physician turned pedagogical philosopher Dr Maria Montessori.
“I love that Montessori quote, ‘everything you do for me, you take away from me’.
“Having residents involved in the garden, picking flowers, having music… the wellbeing that comes from food brings an energy to life that allows all the other things to flow.”
More about the MBF online learning modules
Filmed in Sydney last year, each video features Beer with some of Australia’s leading aged care chefs and experts in food, nutrition, and the dining experience, covering the following topics:
- Creating Tempting Finger Food and Sandwiches
- Cooking Techniques with Impact
- Cook Fresh. Chill. Enhance.
- Feed the Eyes: Food Presentation
- Keep it Fresh: Kitchen Gardens
- Delivering Higher Protein All Day
- Rethinking Texture Modified Food
- Food Culture of First Australians
- Embracing Food from Diverse Cultures
- Improving the Dining Experience
- Maximising Flavour: Engaging the Senses’
Steve Iliffe, executive producer at Altura Learning, says that his team were thrilled to have partnered with Beer on the series.
“Fans of Maggie’s TV shows and her Masterclasses will be familiar with the format; the video-based training modules show just how cooks and chefs can influence outcomes with the right support from their organisations,” he says.
“We develop all our training with our sights set on making a positive difference to people’s lives, so it’s a passion we share with Maggie.”
Each individual module can be completed at the learner’s convenience, including:
- Introduction and cooking demonstrations from Maggie Beer
- Specialist explanations from subject matter experts
- Recipes which include details on ingredients, method, equipment, cost and nutritional profile
- Downloadable learning resources, recipes, and references
- Knowledge self-check questions
The modules will be available to organisations as a set through Altura Learning, and individually through the Maggie Beer Foundation website.
Priced at $43.95 per module, the cost includes learning resources, recognition of completion and access to the Maggie Beer Foundation Professional Community for cooks and chefs in aged care.
Proceeds from the modules will be used to develop more online modules and to support the Professional Community Moderator.
The first 11 modules were developed thanks to a grant from the federal health department, with MBF planning development of a further 34 modules in the near future.
To learn more about the online training modules, visit: Maggie Beer Foundation website.