As Residences at Coffee Creek prepares to open their doors, Executive Chef Peta Harrison is refining the menu to welcome new residents to tastes of home and abroad.
Harrison spent most of her life traveling Africa with her missionary parents. Spending her childhood in Zambia, her family moved to Kenya when she was in high school. After high school, they moved to South Africa, where Harrison entered the workforce in retail management.
When the company she worked for was bought out, she started her own business as a stop-gap in case her job was in danger, as many above her had already been replaced.
Harrison’s entrepreneurial spirit thrived, and she quickly shifted into the culinary arts.
“I would make something, share it with someone and see what they thought,” Harrison said, “I was surrounded by so many different types of food, and it was fun to experiment with all those different things. That was how I found my love of cooking.”
After a lifetime in Africa, Harrison discovered it was time to start over somewhere new. Although she had been born in the US, moving here “felt like a foreign country.”
Harrison moved her daughters to the Three Rivers area to take advantage of the warmth and safety of extended family.
“Starting life all over again is not easy, especially when you’re trying to break into the job market.”
She found a waitstaff position at a senior living community in Kalamazoo, and quickly moved up to line cook. With experience under her belt, she ventured to another company where she served as the dining manager.
“I had never done anything like that before, but when you need a job, if you’re smart, you’ll take what you can get,” Harrison said, explaining that she was excited about the Executive Chef opportunity at Residences at Coffee Creek because, “I came here to get back to doing what I was doing in South Africa.”
Now at the helm, Harrison is excited about the menus she can offer the new residents.
“With carte blanche to write my own menu, I can introduce all sorts of different dishes,” Harrison said, “We’re going into fall, so I’m taking that into account.”
Residences at Coffee Creek offers a full restaurant-style menu, as opposed to the traditional cafeteria-style dining customary of senior living communities. From entrees to salads and sandwiches, residents will be able to order whatever they want, even if that means French toast for dinner.
“I will, of course, include some familiar foods,” Harrison said, “Classics, like lasagna and meatloaf. But we’ll also offer specialty items.”
Harrison will keep staples on the menu year-round, but appreciates the opportunity to offer daily specials like chicken marsala, shrimp alfredo, butter crumb cod and salad entrees like shrimp and crab salad and a teriyaki chicken salad plate.
Harrison has a lot of ideas in the pipeline, saying, “I’m excited to share great food with the seniors. They worked hard all their lives, and they deserve an opportunity to be a part of the community and what’s going on.”
Following in the footsteps of the Residences at Deer Creek in Schererville, the Residences at Coffee Creek will host themed events every month. Harrison has plenty of ideas for plates to complement the themes.
“If we have an Around the World theme, for instance, we can offer international flavors and ethnic dishes like curries for people to try if they want to. They can have a taste without committing to a whole meal.”
Harrison is perhaps uniquely qualified for this venture, noting that people have to start over sometimes later in life. She returned to the US in her 40s, having never really lived here before. The seniors moving in might experience something similar, and she can provide the compassion and enthusiasm for the newness of the lives they’ll be living.
“Everything happens for a reason, and you just need to embrace it,” Harrison said, “I’ve been through enough in my life to know that sitting still doesn’t get you anywhere.”