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Live Vibrantly - November 19, 2019

Behind the Scenes of GHBC Dining with Executive Chef Allyson Lara

As we all prepare for a feast with friends and family, and a season of good eating, we thought it would be fun to get a glimpse behind the scenes of one of our dining teams. As you might imagine, food is a number one priority for us—it feeds our bodies and our souls! Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads (GHBC) Executive Chef Allyson Lara provides us with a wonderful exploration of GHBC Dining.

Allyson’s Story

Outside of Healthcare, Dining Services is the largest department at GHBC, with roughly 130 employees representing 37 countries and speaking 26 languages. Our mighty team operates three dining venues. We also manage the dining programs for our higher levels of living—Assisted Living, Memory Care and Nursing Care. Every day, we provide service to approximately 500 residents and 300 staff, totaling about 1,400 meals a day. And on holidays, we try our best to deliver food that tastes of tradition and good home cooking.

When I came to work at GHBC in 2017, I was amazed at the breadth of culinary talent on the team and realized it had yet to be harnessed and celebrated. Together, we have built a dining program that offers a multitude of interesting ingredients, eye-catching colors and global flavors. And most importantly, we achieve this while utilizing the fresh, seasonal flavors our local area to offer!

Drawing inspiration from various cooking traditions, we have developed menu features that offer a global exploration of culinary delights. And they’re always met with rave reviews from residents! Here are just a few of our custom-made, staff-inspired dishes:

  • Elena’s El Salvadorian chicken enchiladas (rolled in house with love)
  • Paitoon’s Pad Thai Action Station on Thursday nights
  • Sammy’s succulent Duck Confit Cassoulet

In addition to these more adventurous options, we regularly offer comfort classics like good ol’ homemade meatloaf and mashed potatoes (always from scratch!) and roasted chicken and macaroni and cheese (always made in house). Our culinary team strives to provide residents and staff members a variety of dining options that exceed their expectations, no matter their palate.

In addition to our regular dining options, we strive to provide special features and experiences. Recently, we collaborated with Dr. James Giordano, professor in the Departments of Neurology and Biochemistry, chief of the Neuroethics Studies Program of the Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics, and co-director of the O’Neill-Pellegrino Program in Brain Science. Together, we developed a presentation on nutrition and brain health, followed by a four-course meal for our residents. Our work with this renowned neurologist allowed us to showcase ingredients that foster good brain health and provide our residents with a truly unique dining experience.

We offer three distinct dining venues, each with its unique menu, ambiance and service model – from carry-out to fast casual, from formal dining to patio seating. These diverse venues allow us to present a range of menus and environments for residents, and we are always looking for new recipes and ideas.

The Bistro

From burgers, onions rings and nightly specials (including our weekly Meatless Monday feature), the Bistro serves the majority of our residents at each meal. For a quick grab and go bite, or a leisurely meal with friends, this popular spot is cozy and familiar to everyone who visits.

The Jefferson Dining Room

Our most formal space, The Jefferson features white tablecloths, full table service and a quieter atmosphere – perfect for a special occasion or when residents want to sit back, relax and enjoy good food, wine and company in a relaxed yet more formal space.

The Fireside

Our newest venue, the Fireside offers our most contemporary style of dining—both in terms of setting and menu options. We explore new and interesting takes on pasta and pizza dishes while also offering classic Italian dishes. Gluten-free choices are also always on the menu.

At both the Bistro and the Jefferson, we feature salad bars with a variety of vegetable, protein and whole grain salads. The standards of dark leafy greens, romaine and spinach are always there, with a variety of additional toppings, which change daily. Our salad bars increase residents’ access to fresh produce in an attractive way, promoting flavor, variety and good nutrition, and encouraging our residents (as well as staff) to make healthy decisions.

Outside of the a la carte options served in our restaurants, our seasonal cycle menu serves residents throughout living levels with flavorful and nutritious meal options. Twice per year, our GHBC Dietitian Alison Liggett, RD, CSG, and I put together our Seasonal Cycle menu that aims to provide delicious and seasonally appropriate meals. We select items that will provide variety and nutrition covering three meals per day, seven days a week. As an example, each week, our cooks prepare the following:

  • 14 types of soup
  • 28 different protein-rich entrees
  • 42 nutritionally sound side dishes (21 vegetable and 21 starch)
  • 28 desserts (14 are “No Sugar Added”)

While my culinary colleagues and I may get our energy from the creativity of our cuisine, our top priority is the health and safety of our residents and the quality of our food and food service operations. We are proud to have won the AMC (Active Managerial Control) award this spring from Fairfax County for our best practices in food safety management. We are also very proud to have received three consecutive, perfect Health Department Inspection scores in the last 18 months.


Experienced in high-volume, multi-unit kitchen operations in a variety of food-service models, Chef Allyson has 20 years culinary experience in Washington, D.C. In 2016, she transitioned from the public world of harried restaurants to the focused environment of serving older adults in senior living communities. A strong believer in building and sustaining one’s wellness through community, lifelong learning, and, of course food and wine, she is an enthusiastic steward of the Goodwin House mission to support, honor and uplift the lives of older adults and those who care for them.

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