A new chef means new culinary experiences at this award-winning senior community in Aliso Viejo
The culinary team at The Covington, one of the most sought-after active retirement communities in Orange County, is dedicated to providing exceptional dining options for residents. The team comes from a hospitality background — many have worked in restaurants, hotels and resorts in Southern California and beyond, and bring that training, commitment and love of service to their roles at The Covington.
Javier Sarmiento, Senior Director, Dining Services has worked at the Four Seasons, and the Hilton. When he brought his hospitality expertise to senior living, he says, “honestly, it was one of the best decisions I’ve made.” Initially, he was surprised and delighted by the quality of the food. “It reminded me of the Four Seasons.” The food is on par with any of the hotels where he has worked. “The presentation is like what you see at high-end restaurants,” Javier says.
The Covington has two on-property restaurants. The Cove Bistro offers breakfast, lunch and dinner with a more casual menu including soups and specialty salads, sandwiches and burgers. The Grandview is the fine dining restaurant and is open for dinners and Sunday brunch. Both the Grandview and The Cove Bistro offer al fresco dining. The Grandview is especially popular as its large patio has beautiful views of the Saddleback mountains.
The menus change to reflect the seasons at both The Cove Bistro and The Grandview, especially with the recent arrival of The Covington’s new Executive Chef, Charles (Chad) Krahling. Chef Chad has extensive experience in restaurants and hotels. After attending culinary school in San Francisco, he worked at several upscale restaurants in the city. He was also a private chef to well-known personalities, then an opportunity to work for Disney brought him and his family to Southern California. He worked at hotels in the Los Angeles area and was the chef for the Anaheim Ducks of the NHL. Working with athletes, he needed to focus on their dietary requirements to help them achieve peak performance.
Chef Chad was looking to move into a role where he could enrich the lives of others, when he came to The Covington in early May 2023. “I was initially struck by what an amazing community it is. It looks and feels like a resort property,” he says.
“The benefit of being in California is that we have access to the best produce in the country,” Chef Chad says. “I bring in seasonal elements, so we get fresh tomatoes at the best time, or crenshaw melons in season,” he says, which he incorporates into the daily and weekly specials.
Relationships with local producers are the inspiration for his menu and new dishes. He receives a long list of fresh, available items from local purveyors. “We get great seafood from Santa Monica Seafood,” he says. He uses that seafood in one of the most popular new dishes he has brought to The Covington, his celebrated smoked mussel chowder, which has been a huge hit with the residents.
“We are inspired by what’s available,” he says, so having the freshest ingredients gives him a lot of latitude to be creative. His goal is to present delicious meals that are healthy and have the right balance of protein and other nutrients.
Being executive chef at The Covington is a bit like being a personal chef, but to all the residents. “I need to understand their needs,” Chef Chad says. The smaller, more personal scale of The Covington allows the team to cater to the residents in a way that would not be possible at a larger community. Chef Chad is always looking to accommodate their requests. “I don’t say No if I can help it. We make everything here from scratch, so when asked for a special change, I will see what I can do and present the resident with options,” he says. “I like being available to the residents, speaking with them, and understanding their preferences.”
The culinary team meets monthly with the residents on the Dining Committee. The group provides input into the menu items and any refinement they’re interested in. Through these meetings, the team receives a lot of insight into what the residents enjoy.
Chef Andrew Wong is the Executive Sous Chef at The Covington and has been a key member of the team for six years. During his culinary studies at Cal Poly Pomona, he also studied wine, and earned a scholarship to Italy. He learned how Italy’s perspective on wine is different than in France. “In Italy, it’s about freshness and not manipulating the ingredients,” he says, so the ingredients come through.
He takes this perspective of freshness to his cooking. “With all the fresh ingredients we get to explore genres of food. Every week there are specials, from Thai food to Cuban food, or other international items, so residents get to try something new or different.”
Gerardo Guerrero, Dining Room Manager, has been with The Covington for almost 20 years. Over that time one thing that hasn’t changed is the quality of the people. “The residents are so nice here,” he says. And they love coming to the restaurants. It’s a great source of social connection and a delicious meal.
“We always have special events,” Gerardo says. Once or twice a month are piano nights when music accompanies the meal. It’s always a popular evening. “We have a happy hour every month, usually with a theme,” he says. Residents come together to enjoy an entertainer or an artist or karaoke while enjoying food inspired by that month’s theme. On major holidays, there’s always something extra special.
Javier says, “we’re always open to trying something new.” He describes the newest ‘member’ of the team, a robot, which joined them in July. Javier had experience with robots in some of the hotels where he worked, so was happy to see the latest technology support service.
The robot is programmed to go to a table, where a Human Team Member presents residents with their meal. The robot also helps with transporting items back to the kitchen when tables are cleared. If a resident is having a birthday, the robot delivers the birthday cake to the table. The robot can even sing Happy Birthday. “The robot sings a lot better than I do,” Javier laughs.
Javier loves seeing people discover something new to enjoy. “I’m most proud when I put a smile on a resident’s face,” he says.
“The Covington reminds me of a hotel resort property,” Chef Chad says. “The grounds are absolutely beautiful.” Chef Chad has been so taken by the quality of the community, the friendliness of the residents, the wealth of amenities and of course the quality of the food, that he’s talking to his father about calling The Covington home. “I want my dad to move here. I love this place.”