If someone had told young aspiring chef Matt Wooster 12 years ago that he’d be cooking at a senior living facility — and liking it — he would never have believed it.
He’s a believer now.
Wooster, a 1990 Geneva High School graduate, is a chef for Legacy at Parklands in Chili. He has been with the company, which runs senior living communities in the greater Rochester area, for nine years — the last four in Chili.
The company holds an annual event called “Taste of Legacy,” where the chefs from each facility are pitted against each other in a themed cook-off. The event is a fundraiser for the “Pirate Toy Fund,” and guests sample the chefs’ creations and drop tokens into jars for their favorites.
At last month’s cook-off, Wooster swept all three awards categories: People’s Choice, Judges’ Choice and the Spirit Award.
The theme this year was movies. Wooster fashioned his menu based on “Fried Green Tomatoes.” He and his team prepared what he called his Southern Sampler: barbecue baby-back ribs, cheddar and jalapeño grits and fried green tomatoes topped with a bacon jam and pimento cheese. They served their samples in a booth decorated like a Southern barbecue joint.
Wooster said the chefs know the theme about six months ahead of time.
This year’s fundraiser attracted 200-300 people and raised close to $12,000 for the toy fund.
Wooster was a repeat winner, having swept the contest last year as well when the theme was Italy and his creations included a Chianti-poached pear with toppings, truffled polenta and Osso Bucco-style pork. He also took home various honors in 2011, ’12 and ’14.
“[Winning] five out of nine times isn’t bad,” he said.
Wooster graduated from RIT with a degree in food service and hospitality management. He worked in several Rochester restaurants before opening and running Spinnaker’s on Seneca Lake and Hamilton 258 in Geneva. He returned to Rochester and was working there when a colleague suggested checking out a career in a senior living community. Wooster, tired of late-night restaurant hours and the instability of the business, did so and said he was “just blown away.”
At the Chili location, Wooster, a sous chef and a third kitchen helper prepare meals for 85 residents. Wooster creates menus — which aren’t just porridge, as he originally feared — that feature “steak, shrimp, salmon, pasta, homemade soups and desserts, you name it.”
Wooster said he and his staff have to be on “their A game” because if they cook a bad meal their customers will let them know.
“You’re gonna see them in the hallway and they’re going to let you have it,” he joked. “We come in every day and put our heart and soul into it.”
Wooster is the son of Roy Wooster, who lives in Kashong and Hilton Head, S.C., and Ermie Wooster of Hillcrest Avenue. His sister, Concetta, is a teacher at West Street School. Wooster’s three sons, Justin, Isaac and Jamie, attend Geneva schools.
Wooster lives in Fairport with his wife, Jacqueline, the director of operations at the New York Wine and Culinary Center, and their daughter, Sophia.
Porter is editor of Life by the Lakes. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.