Mike Peacock: Welcome to the first-ever episode of Cosmic Soup. My name is Mike Peacock and I’m an executive chef with Seattle-based dining consultants Culinary Coach. Joining me today are my partners in crime, the big dog of Culinary Coach, Executive Chef Shawn Boling and, of course, the lifeforce behind the whole operation, the secret sauce in our senior living enchilada, the pilot of the mothership at 3rdThird Marketing, Cynthia Thurlow Cruver. Thank you, guys, for joining the show today.
Cynthia Thurlow Cruver: Thank you. We’re excited to be here.
Mike: I am soup-er excited.
Mike: Ha-ha! That’s my bad bun, which is normally Shawn’s territory.
Shawn Boling: Yes.
Mike: But, today, I stole your thunder. But I’m really excited to finally get to say, “Welcome to the show,” to both of you because we’ve been talking about doing this for what seems like for-ever now.
So, before we dig into what the show is really going to be about, let’s give the listeners a little bit of background on us. Full disclaimer, of course, the background check we did ourselves. [Tongue click] There you go.
Mike: Cynthia, let’s start with you. What is 3rdThird? Why did you start it?
Cynthia: 3rdThird is a branding firm and a lead generating consulting firm that services the aging services industry.
Mike: Okay. What made you want to get into that business?
Cynthia: Well, I used to be a partner in a general agency and, after working in senior living for, you know, a year or two, I just noticed that there was a huge amount of help that we could be providing to senior living companies. That’s it. I just love the business, too. I think the people are nice. I love the human element of it. I love the whole sector.
Mike: Okay. Shawn, your turn. You have an extensive background as a restaurant chef, as a catering chef, did a lot of cool high-end stuff. Also, worth noting that you are ACF Certified Executive Chef, which brings a lot of capability and credibility to your various roles in the industry, so why the move? Why go from the restaurant and catering business into senior living?
Shawn: That is a really good question. It was by chance, honestly. I was at a point in my life where I’ve done, like you said, all the high-end hotels, the catering. I wanted something different. I got tired of bridezillas and momzillas and all that.
Mike: We’ve all been there.
Shawn: Yeah, so I had a friend who was an executive chef in a high-end retirement community here in Seattle. He gave me a tour and said, “This is what we’re doing and we have openings for chefs.” I thought, “Why not? I’ll just give it a shot.”
Long story short, working for about a year or two in the different communities that this one company had, I really started falling in love with the residents. It was a really nice little something-something off to the side I wasn’t really prepared for. But then I realized that the food that they were eating pretty much sucked and the model seemed like something out of the ’60s or ’50s.
When you can go to Denny’s at 2:00 in the morning and get a better meal than you would at one of these residencies, I thought, “I’ve got to do something about it,” and so I just started working with my cycle menus, creating my own, and implementing them. Now, years later, we go around all over the country and reconfigure the kitchens. We give them all-new cycle menus and fresh foods. Yeah, it’s really rewarding.
Mike: Cool. Yeah, so we’ll dig into that a little bit more later. I also come from the restaurant and catering background. I really focused on a lot of farm-to-table stuff and kind of small businesses but taking the concept of what makes small businesses really cool and trying to bring those into higher volume locations that are so focused on kind of the turn and burn mentality. I really like the idea of bringing those more intimate experiences to the larger scale.
My tie into the senior living is that my grandmother actually had dementia and Alzheimer’s. I saw her in some of these communities and it broke my heart because the care wasn’t there. The food wasn’t there.
Mike: My mom would go over there and literally just yank her out of these places. She probably placed her in three or four different communities before finally saying, “I’ve just got to have home help,” because she couldn’t find the care in the communities that she wanted to do. That’s kind of why I’m so passionate about this industry is because I do have a personal tie in and I’ve seen it firsthand.
That’s us. That’s basically what our team is at Culinary Coach and 3rdThird. Of course, also full disclaimer, back in the day, Cynthia used to run a restaurant and I worked for her. That was something we focused on was kind of the local sourcing, the farm-to-table.
We had this really cool farmers market that was out in the parking lot. We brought local vendors in and we had local artists kind of hang their art in the building. It was very community feel and I really love the idea of the community feel. I think that the industry is lacking in that, but I think that they’re taking the proper steps.
What I want to know, how did the two of you get together?
Shawn: [Laughter] Well, Cynthia, do you want to start or do you want me to go for it?
Cynthia: Well, I’ll just say that I was working in marketing and lead generating branding for a really nice nonprofit organization, which is now Transforming Age but, at the time, it was Skyline, Exeter House, Park Shore. Shawn was buzzing around those communities working in culinary. That’s how—
I remember we were working on a photo shoot. The first time I saw Shawn, the chef was going to “style the appetizers.” I was petrified because, oftentimes, that doesn’t turn out so well.
Cynthia: On this occasion, it was mind-blowing. We had so many beautiful platters of appetizers. It was an amazing photo shoot, and that’s how I met Shawn.
Shawn: Well, as far as popping around to those communities, I would see Cynthia come in and, when I first met her she goes, “Oh, yeah. I’m with marketing and we’re going to rebrand.” I said, “Okay.” Then, after a few months, we started getting busier and busier and busier. Pretty soon, we were full.
Then a year would go by. I’m in another community and there she is again. I’m like, “Oh!” She did the same turnaround with branding.
After a few years, it was kind of a joke with my cooks. If I saw her come in the door to rebrand, I’m like, “Okay, we’re going to be busy now. Give her about 60, 70 days and we’re going to up our count by 20, 30 residents.”
Then time passed on and I get a call from Cynthia. She goes, “I have this great idea. I love the food that you’re cooking, Shawn, what you’re doing, and your passion for the seniors. I want to take you out to dinner.”
We go out for dinner and she goes, “How about we have a culinary coach?” She said, “I go all over the U.S. and rebrand and every single community is, ‘Do you know anybody in culinary? Our kitchens are a disaster. Recipes are 1950s and ’60s.'”
And so, it was just a genius idea that I just jumped on board and said, “Let’s go for it.” It took off. We’ve been doing it for a few years now. I joke around to people and tell them I’m like the Gordon Ramsey of senior living but I don’t yell and scream and I’m super cool and chill.
Mike: So, you’re not the Gordon Ramsey of senior living.
Shawn: No, I’m not. Yeah, but we fix kitchens and then we rebrand them. It’s so satisfying because the food out there is so bad.
Shawn: It really, really is, nationwide.
Mike: Basically, Cynthia, you were the branding element and you were helping clients get their occupancy up. Then when those clients would go in and they would say, “Hey, cool. We’ve got this really great catalog but, man, now the food is really bad.” Then that’s where Shawn kind of came into play?
Cynthia: Well, maybe not in exactly that order because, as part of the branding exercise, we perform focus groups.
Cynthia: We’re interviewing a lot of residents and asking about characteristics of the community so that we could create a brand that’s relevant. But about 95% of the time culinary is a challenge. We know we can market all day long, but if there is word on the street that the food is bad, we can’t fill up a community.
Cynthia: That’s the order of events. Then we realize, wow, there’s an operational challenge here and we want to help you solve that so that when we’re marketing, the word of mouth is really great and the food experiences are really good. That’s where Shawn comes in.
Mike: Okay. Hence, Culinary Coach was born.
Mike: You’ve got the branding side of the business and then you’ve also got the culinary side of the business. Unlike a lot of concepts out there, it’s literally a perfect joining of the two concepts into one big thing.
Mike: I think that the goals for the company are pretty lofty. It was once, Culinary Coach, kind of a side project but now it’s fully engrained. It’s a part of the culture here. Now, here we are together in this crazy cosmic twist of fate.
Shawn: Well, we’re in a cosmic bowl of soup.
Mike: We’re in the Cosmic Soup, right?
Cynthia: We’re floating.
Shawn: The listeners can’t see us, but I’m literally in an innertube right now. I’m floating.
Mike: When I was first interviewing to come onboard, one of the things that Cynthia mentioned to me was that she wanted to start a podcast, something for clients, potential clients, friends in the business, just a resource for people to be able to get ideas and perspectives from outside of their immediate circles. This podcast would touch on the culinary side but, really, envelope all facets of senior living and aging services and how there’s a desperate need for modernization and innovation in the industry. Cynthia, if you don’t mind, why don’t we dive into that for a second?
Cynthia: Yeah. Well, there are so many areas. Number one, culinary touches almost every part of a senior living community. It’s operational, resident engagement, nutrition, health, socialization, and so the Cosmic Soup is a blending of culinary with all areas of a business, including marketing and ops and even psychology. That was the concept of the podcast is something that anybody who either works in senior living or has an interest in it might listen to it, get some new, good ideas, and we really want to share the knowledge that we have.
Mike: The more we talked about it, it just kept identifying so many different issues and so many different opportunities to explore. I think once we decided that we were actually going to do it, then we embarked on the crazy journey to search for the appropriate name. We had bounced around a bunch of ideas. Nothing was really sticking. I’m not sure if you remember, Cynthia, but the three of us—Shawn, you, and myself—we were here one day, I think after hours, kind of just mulling about and we were walking around. We had just gotten the new office and we were kind of taking a little tour around here. We were like, “This is so exciting! This is so super cool!”
Then we started talking about the podcast again and how this room, we could have a whole new room for it. Then I think how you said it was, “There are so many ideas and solutions floating around in the soup.” I remember asking you, what kind of soup are you talking about? You said, “You know, the cosmic soup, the universe.” I was like, “That’s it! The Cosmic Soup!”
Shawn: Mic drop!
Mike: I know, right? There it was. You guys were like, “Heck yeah!” We ended up kind of putting it to a vote and that’s the one that stuck, so we rolled with it and hence now Cosmic Soup is born. It’s here. I don’t know if it was born or if it was big bang theory—
Mike: –or it just kind of popped into existence, but it was definitely an evolution of some sort, I think.
Shawn: The great cosmic gods of cookery made it.
Cynthia: Got trapped into the soup.
Cynthia: But also, I would add that senior living and aging services, at the end of the day, it’s all cosmic because we’re just people. We’re all humans. It doesn’t matter how old you are. We’re like these kinds of spiritual beings and so I think that kind of lends itself to cosmic soup too.
Mike: I think it represents kind of like the never-ending universe of ideas and possibilities, topic, solutions. Just like that concept of space and the universe, it really is only limited by our creativity, our imaginations, what we want to accomplish. The name itself kind of has that underlying astrological vibe to it but really it just takes on so many different connotations depending on the context that you want to talk about stuff. That’s why I think it’s perfect because, for a show like ours, it seeks to kind of explore the endless possibilities to change the industry for the better. That’s what it means to me.
Shawn: Well, yeah, and to stir the pot a little bit—no pun intended—but I see Cosmic Soup too as a go-to place not just for high-end professionals. This is for the cooks. This is for the servers. This is for everybody that might have questions about senior living, what it’s like. Maybe we can also do tests on here and talk about different things that we’re cooking in the kitchen and flavor profiles, anything and everything. It’s cosmic.
Shawn: It all swirls around. Maybe I’ll rap one week. I don’t know.
Mike: Shawn does rap all the time.
Shawn: I do. I do rap.
Mike: He wants to rap today but I’m not going to let him.
Shawn: I’m not going to rap today, but they do call me Saran-Saran, I’m yo’ rappin’ man.
Shawn: Yep, a little—
Mike: Remember what I said earlier about the puns.
Shawn: Squeaked it in there.
Shawn: Yeah, so I want it to be a fun podcast to where you just tune, learn, and just experience life.
Mike: Yeah, and I mean that really was the big question.
Shawn: Culinary world.
Mike: Once we kind of dialed in some of the concepts, it’s like really, “What in fact are we going to talk about?” which, as you were saying, it’s a ton of stuff. We’ll touch on the food side, the dining side, the branding side, the challenges. We’ll talk to industry people. We’ll talk to people outside of the industry.
Shawn: Where did all the cooks go?
Shawn: Where did all the chefs go? Where did all the servers go?
Mike: What’s going on? Where are all the people? Workforce is a topic that we’ll probably spend a lot of time talking about.
Mike: We’ll talk to vendors, suppliers, you name it. Really, Cynthia, you and I were just talking about some of the new exciting things that are coming down the pike like horticultural therapy. We’ve got somebody on board with that.
Mike: Eldergrow, yeah, and we’re going to have them on. There is a lot of really cool, outside-of-the-box thinking that’s happening in the industry, finally.
Mike: I think that getting people on board here with the show to talk about it, to share ideas, to brainstorm, to put things out to the ether is really the best way to explore new possibilities. It sounds almost Star Trek-like – seek out new words.
Shawn: I’m thinking Pink Floyd.
Cynthia: We’re bolding going.
Mike: Yeah, we are bolding going where no senior living podcast has gone before.
Shawn: I’d like to say we’re bolding going where no pan—
Mike: So, uh, yeah.
Shawn: –has gone before. Frying pan, you know – nobody is getting that?
Mike: Yeah. No.
Shawn: All right. Whatever.
Shawn: Yeah, deal with that, Mikey.
Mike: So, of course, over the course of all of the guests that we’re going to have on the show, we’ll talk to our internal people. We have a lot of people coming from outside of the company and outside of the industry, but we’re going to ask, each guest that comes on, two very specific questions. Those questions are: What kind of community would you create for yourself? Okay. Then to take that one step further, what are three things that you could do, CEOs could do, or people that run the show could do? What are three things that we could do starting today that would make a positive difference in the lives of senior living residents?
I think that the reason we want to get those two questions out to everybody is so that we have a common theme that ties every episode together and that gets different perspectives of the same question. Cynthia, would you agree with that?
Cynthia: I agree, yeah, and I think what’s so fun about that is that we will hear these perspectives from a wide variety of professionals and people with very varied backgrounds, so Dr. Kelly Tremblay, neuroscientist, audiologist. We’re going to hear from the horticultural therapy ladies at Eldergrow. We’ll hear from really amazing operators, those people who are doing it right in the industry. We want to hear them talk about their magic sauce so that more senior living companies can learn from that and everybody is getting better together.
Shawn: Bacon. [Laughter] No, bacon.
Shawn: I’m a little behind here on the question but you said, “What are the things you would want in your community if you build it?” and I want bacon three times a day. I want bacon ice cream. I want bacon donuts. I want somebody baking bacon, for god’s sake.
Mike: Well, we know where Shawn’s mind is. It’s all about the bacon, clearly.
Cynthia: I just learned this, actually. The World Health Organization has determined that bacon causes cancer, so I just want you to know that.
Shawn: Well, okay. That’s true.
Mike: I think, specifically, it’s that there are elements in bacon that are known carcinogens.
Mike: Yes, we’ll ask Dr. Kelly to clarify that.
Shawn: Definitely. Okay, so what? You’re saying, just don’t pig out on bacon.
Cynthia: Not three times a day.
Shawn: Not three times a day, yes.
Mike: All right. Well, getting back to it now. So, of course, we’re going to ask everybody, that comes on the show, those questions. Cynthia, Shawn, and I will also answer those questions individually on some episodes that we’re going to do on our own. But I will ask each of you to answer one of those questions today, which is, what is one thing that can be done on an immediate basis to start changing the lives of the residents for the better?
Cynthia: I’ve got – okay, here’s mine. It’s so easy.
Cynthia: Super easy. Give residents. Buy the absolute most perfect fresh fruit that’s in season organically grown and give residents or provide residents as part of their dining program the most perfect, right, peach.
Mike: You’ve always had this thing for the perfect peach.
Cynthia: I have – or cherries or apricots.
Mike: Or carrots.
Cynthia: Or whatever it is. That is such an easy thing. Residents want it. Let’s skip the syrup and the sauce and just go for the perfect fruit.
Mike: Awesome. Keep it simple.
Mike: All right, Shawn. I’m afraid to hear what you’re going to say, but I’m going to ask you the same question.
Shawn: Two words.
Shawn: Cooking procedures. What I have found is that there is steaming and boiling and that’s 90% of what I think a lot of folks use in the kitchens. Cooking procedures can make or break a meal and it’s so-so easy to fix within a day. Go through all your menus and, if you are finding out that everyone is steaming or boiling most everything like fish and things like that, we need to use the words sauté, broil, bake.
All these fresh foods are coming in and, I think, for the most part, people are doing a pretty good job but then they’ll take a nice piece of fresh salmon—true story—and the cook grabs it and goes, “Yeah, this is like $25 a pound fish.” I went, “Oh, excellent.” Then he threw it into a frying pan with hardly any oil or clarified butter and then just destroyed it. He cooked it for 15 minutes. I didn’t say anything. I just wanted to see what was going on.
That’s something that can be done really, really quick. When I go into communities, too, that’s the first thing I focus on, cooking procedures and methods.
Mike: Just to go down a quick little rabbit hole about that, do you think that that’s an issue where they just don’t know that there’s a better way to do it?
Shawn: Absolutely. Yeah, you don’t know what you don’t know. God bless them. I think most people don’t get up in the morning and go, “Golly, I want to go to work and create a crappy meal.” There’s just not a lot of skill that’s out there right now.
Like we touched on early, where have all the cooks gone? Where have all the sous chefs gone, the chefs gone? The talent pool is dwindling every day.
There was a study out last year from the Chicago Institute that said that we are still pumping out, of all the culinary schools nationwide, the same percentage of people we did 25 years ago. Meaning, if one college pumps out 50 cooks a quarter 25 years ago, that’s what they’re pumping out today. Unfortunately, there is probably five times the amount of restaurants, senior living. Every building you see in any city is going to have one, two cafés in it, which we need more cooks, more servers.
We’re actually in a crisis across the nation and I travel across the nation. It’s not just Seattle, Puget Sound, California. It’s everywhere. It’s Texas. It’s New York, Louisiana.
When I go in, that’s a great question you ask because it’s, what can I do for the short-term that I’m here? What can I do to really impact this food immediately? That’s just to go through its cooking methods and procedures.
Shawn: And timing. Don’t cook the heck out of a really good piece of product. Please, everybody, do not bake broccoli. I don’t know what’s going on but, the last few years, I’m seeing people throw broccoli into an oven and then it comes out all black and gross. I’m like, “Oh, my gosh. No-no-no-no-no.”
I like Brussels sprouts. There’s nothing wrong with a nice sautéed Brussels sprouts and a little bacon and a little pepper in it. But when people are taking frozen Brussels sprouts and putting them in a steamer and then serving them on a plate, I’m just like, “Oh, god, no. There’s got to be Brussels hell somewhere.”
Mike: Yeah. It hurts your soul.
Shawn: It does. My soul screams, “No!”
Mike: I think the consensus that we all agree on here is that while there are plenty of operators out there in the industry that does a good job—
Shawn: They mean well. Sure.
Mike: –that genuinely come from the right spot, there’s plenty of room for innovation, modernization, and changing perceptions about what it actually can be.
Shawn: Training. It’s a model. I said it from day one when I got with Cynthia. She asked me, “What’s one thing you see that needs to be fixed, pretty much, and how would you?” It’s a business model. It really is. It seems to me that a lot of the kitchens are older menus and things like that. But again, you don’t know what you don’t know.
What I bring is the fresh, new ideas, the high-end catering, high-end hotel menus and things like that. That gets put into senior living. There’s no reason why they can’t have the same food.
Cynthia: Well, I think there are a lot of operators who have fabulous food and I’ve experienced it. I’ve seen it. I’ve eaten it. I think we’re not talking about every senior living organization that has these issues, but there are quite a few. I think one of the reasons for that is that C-level professionals or executives are not restaurant managers. Senior living communities are running a full-on restaurant and, not only that, it’s three times a day.
Cynthia: And it’s somewhat medical in a lot of areas.
Shawn: Textured foods and things like that, yeah.
Cynthia: It just couldn’t be more complicated and I think that that’s where there is room for improvement is just helping executives to learn how to manage a restaurant.
Mike: Yeah, and I think a lot of them freely acknowledge that that’s not their background. I think, too, the idea that a lot of times people contract out their dining services is because they’re afraid. They don’t understand that they really can do it internally but they don’t have a starting point. They’re not quite sure where to go with that.
I suppose you could also tie that into the other elements of the industry, things like marketing, branding, how to be creative, and how to really just outside of the norm. Take that phrase of, “Well, we’ve always done it this way,” and just get away from that. Move into something that says, “Let’s try something new. Let’s break the mold. Let’s give people what they want.” I think the demographics have changed over the years.
Shawn: Oh, my gosh, yes.
Mike: People that are going into communities are going in with different backgrounds. They grew up with the Food Channel being a thing and the Internet has been a thing. All of a sudden, the stuff that was okay 30 years ago, people are just like – it’s blowing their minds. The need for, I think, change is driven by not a negative thing, necessarily, but just by exposures to different elements over the years and generational changes.
Shawn: Yeah, I call it a movement, almost, because you’re right. What was acceptable even ten years ago is not acceptable now. We have residents that are asking, “Where is the fish from? Where is the chicken from? Is it local? Is it sustainable? Do you have compostable products?” These questions, ten years ago, weren’t even in the cosmic universe to think about.
Shawn: Now, when we do our focus groups, that’s one of the first five questions that they’ll ask us: How are you preparing the food? I keep going back, but the business model needs to change because taste buds are changing. People are changing.
Mike: Awesome. Well, any last thoughts from the two of you before we close out our very first episode?
Cynthia: Well, I’m living a dream. I’m super excited about our podcast. I just want to thank everybody who is listening. We want to hear your questions, actually. Please do write us. Mike, where do they write us?
Mike: Yeah, I was going to get into that. Basically, we want to hear your questions and comments because we’re going to do, every so often, a really cool episode that we’re going to call Mail Bag and our super epic panel of experts are going to answer your questions. You can hit us up at [email protected] and we will answer all of your questions and respond to you as soon as humanly possible.
Shawn: I have one thing to say, please.
Shawn: I would like all of the listeners to tell the people that aren’t listeners to be listeners and to vote that once a week or two weeks, Shawn raps, and I’ll rap about food.
Shawn: You call in or – well, you don’t call in but you write in what you want me to rap about. It has to be culinary, and I’m going to rap about it.
Cynthia: I like it.
Shawn: Is that cool?
Mike: Yeah, absolutely.
Mike: Yes, we want your input.
Mike: I’m going to ask you all—
Shawn: Because we’re going to make it fun! This is all about fun.
Mike: I’m going to ask you all to vote to not have Shawn rap on the show.
Shawn: No. No, no, you want me to rap.
Shawn: You want me to rap really good.
Mike: If you do send us an email, a question or a comment, and reach out, then we will give you a shout-out on the show. We will answer your questions. Please, subscribe to the show. Like it. Share it. Tell your friends. It’s going to be on all the platforms. It’s on iHeart Radio, Spotify, iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spreaker, Stitcher—
Mike: –TuneIn, you name it, we’re there. If you want to see it on another platform that we’re not on, then you let us know and we’ll make it happen. Shawn, Cynthia, thanks for hanging out today. Thanks for bringing Cosmic Soup into the universe. I’m looking forward to doing this every so often here and just having an epic time with you guys.
Shawn: Soup, there it is.
Shawn: Soup, there it is.
Cynthia: Thank you, Mike.
Mike: All right.
Shawn: Thank you, Mike.
Mike: Thank you, all, for listening today. We definitely appreciate it. We’ll be talking to you again real soon on the next episode of Cosmic Soup.