By Justin Wilson, Wood’s Homes Communications Coordinator
At Wood’s Homes, we know that nutrition and healthy eating can make a world of difference when seeking positive change in the young mental health clients who live with us.
Professional cook Mersa Huskic joined us a few months ago bringing with her an amazing menu to feed youth at our Parkdale campus! Mersa came to Wood’s with an impressive culinary history and a world of knowledge around healthy eating and proper nutrition.
Read on for our Q & A with Mersa!
1) When did you first know you wanted to work in the food industry?
I was always interested in cooking way back to when I was a teenager. I was always watching my mom cook and doing lots of baking myself.
2) Did you acquire any formal training or education in the field?
I studied food science both through and after high school before enrolling in the Culinary Arts program at SAIT, which taught me the
basics of all cooking. It was a program specializing in preparation of certain food items such as, fish, game and poultry, cold foods, meat-cutting, baking and short-order cooking.
There was class time for preparing menus, portion control, food budgets and learning about sanitation and safety.
My second year at SAIT was more upscale — all about fine fining, food service, hotel and restaurant settings and integrating wines and liquors into dishes.
3) Can you talk a bit about your role at Wood’s Homes?
Cooking at Wood’s Homes is comparative to my home business. It involves cooking on a larger scale with my own menu ideas. In the past, I’d worked in retirement homes and restaurants and was always working from a more rigid menu. Cooking for the kids at Wood’s is fun, kind of like cooking for my kids at home.
Kids are a little bit of a challenge, but creativity keeps things interesting. I find good presentation and good tasting food makes everyone happy; besides, I’ve had my own two children to practice on for many years.
4) What makes this role unique for you?
I found the restaurant setting with a set menu both hectic and boring. Once everything becomes the same, there’s not much of a challenge; and I like a challenge. I found restaurant work was not for me early in my cooking career, so I moved to more stable and creative homestyle and fine-dining cooking for a variety of clients.
5) Do you have any styles or influences you enjoy cooking more than others? What about cultural dishes?
I love cooking all kinds of dishes, but more American style than other cultures. I do prepare a lot of dishes from my homeland, Bosnia. I like preparing some Chinese dishes and the spices used in Indian cooking.
6) How have the youth at Wood’s Homes reacted to your menu?
The youth have complimented me on quite a few of the meals I’ve prepared. They’re getting used to a few of the snack items — they often want sweets and those are the types of things we’re trying to stay away from.
7) Do they have any favourites?
I have heard their favorites are chicken pot pie, cheese biscuits and a few of the soups.
8) With this population, there are bound to be certain food restrictions or allergies. Can you talk about how you work around these?
There are a few restrictions; vegetarians, no pork, gluten free, lactose-intolerant, things like that. It can be a bit tough to work around as everything has to be prepared separately but that’s part of the job.
9) Can you walk me through a typical day working with Wood’s Homes?
A day at Wood’s Homes runs like this: I prepare my menus at home and make a list of the day’s jobs.
My shift starts between 6-6:30 a.m. depending on the day. I come in and pull out all my stuff for the snacks and lunch. I enjoy chatting with the kids when they wander in for breakfast. We have some great conversations about what’s going on with them, what’s going on with me and what I’ll be making later in the day.
10) What is the process for making so many meals for so many youth throughout the day?
I work on lunch and supper at the same time. While serving lunch, I’m usually putting supper in the oven and preparing their afternoon snack at the same time.
Ordering for my menu is kind of two steps. I prepare the menus at home and then on Thursday or Friday we put in an order for bulk food items; there are a lot of mouths to feed. The rest of the smaller items are purchased by staff on weekends from the grocery order I leave them. Our grocery order is done once a week
If you would like to know more about the work we do, or are curious about any of our 35+ programs, feel free to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading!
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Wood’s Homes is a nationally accredited mental health centre – proudly helping communities for over 100 years. Learn more at woodshomes.ca.