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LONG-TIME EMPLOYEE FINDS HIS PASSION AND CAREER PATH AT PROSPECT PARK RESIDENCE

General Real Estate

Updated on Oct 4, 2010

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When Omar Smith began in 1998 as a dining room server at Prospect Park Residence, he did not think he would eventually take charge of the community’s entire food service operation at the full-service senior living community. But skill, a willingness to learn, and a strong work ethic came together for Smith through the years.

Smith became curious about kitchen operations, and in his first year, he spent break time in the back, helping wherever needed. He moved to the kitchen as a “floater,” working in support positions including salad maker, dishwasher and maintenance but was drawn to food preparation. His eagerness to learn new skills earned him a job in training to become a prep cook.

“I started the soups, did some baking, and cooked selected menu items that were finished by the line cooks during meal service,” Smith said. “I was eventually offered a position as a line cook.” Although he was nervous at first about the new job, he had the full support of his mentor – the Director of Food Services.

Smith found enormous satisfaction from his work and, it turns out, so did the residents. “First the staff started complimenting my food, and then residents started to say, ‘Oh good, Omar’s cooking tonight.’” Some favorite dishes for both residents and staff included stir-fried pepper steak with fried rice, homemade soups and hero sandwiches with a vinaigrette sauce. “They love it with that little extra touch,” he noted.

Mr. Smith was born and raised in Jamaica and first discovered his passion for cooking seafood while vacationing to Guyana where he would catch fish and grill or roast them whole on the beach that same night. At the residence, he continues to learn about the diverse cultures and tastes of the residents and cooks to satisfy their needs and requests.

In total, Smith oversees three meals a day for the 145 residents living at Prospect Park Residence. The community has an elegant dining room with restaurant-style service and a menu featuring homemade soups, fresh salads and several dinner entrée choices as well as “always available” daily selections. In addition, Smith and his staff prepare special menus for theme parties and dinners.

Smith eventually became the community’s head cook and learned from his mentor about the administrative responsibilities involved in running the kitchen and dining room. Unbeknownst to Smith, he was being groomed for the job of Director of Food Services. After a few years, his hard work paid off when his predecessor told him he was leaving Prospect Park Residence and recommending Smith as his replacement. He has now held the position for nearly five years.

“Now as Director of Food Services, I supervise the entire kitchen and dining room staff and operations, from hiring new staff to creating the menus,” explained Smith. In addition, he is in charge of placing all orders, training, and works closely with a kitchen supervisor and dining room manager. Between doing inventory, making sure staff is in place, and developing menu selections, Smith acknowledges that things can get hectic. “I love what I do, and I don’t panic,” Smith said. “I like a challenge.”

Smith also works hard with the cooks to keep them motivated and further develop their skills. He has not forgotten the encouragement and support he received and includes plenty of positive reinforcement to the kitchen’s staff. “I try to coach them on creating new menu items,” said Smith. “I name dishes after them so their names appear on the menu, and they enjoy the recognition they have earned.”

“We are fortunate to have someone with the talent, ambition and great interpersonal skills that Omar has displayed over his 12 years at Prospect Park Residence,” said Executive Director David Pomerantz. “The residents have been very pleased with his menu ideas, and he has been a strong leader and mentor for the kitchen and dining room staff.”

Prospect Park Residence is located at One Prospect Park West at Grand Army Plaza and features independent studio and one-bedroom apartments, inclusive of housekeeping, laundry and linen service, fine dining, a rooftop garden and easy access to all that Park Slope has to offer. The community also offers on-site licensed home care as needed and its Essentia® program for memory-impaired residents. For more information, visit http://www.prospectparkresidence.com/ or call (718) 622-8400.
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