Thomas Wellman is the newest addition to the Grand Hills Castle as culinary manager overseeing our dining services. We sat down with him for a conversation on his background, why he enjoys working in senior living and his love of creating meals from scratch.
So how did this love of cooking start for you?
At a fairly early age, my mom said that I couldn’t rely on someone else to take care of me for the rest of my life. So, she taught me how to clean, cook, and make my own lunch. I was intrigued by working with food and meal preparation. When I was 15, I had to get a job, so I started as a bus boy at a Pepino’s in Milwaukee. From there, I also worked at Heinemann’s, Le Peep Café and spent a few years at the El Tovar Hotel Dining Room in Grand Canyon, Arizona.
Working in the hospitality industry trained me to show up on time, do the best job I could no matter what the wage and pay attention to details. Wiping down a table may be simple, but it adds to the whole experience for someone coming into a restaurant.
You eventually transitioned from restaurants to senior living facilities 15 years ago. Why?
The restaurant stints were grueling. I was burned out, so I left the business and worked at a spring factory to fill the time. A couple of years before the 2008 recession, I was laid off, so realizing cooking was indeed a passion of mine, I found a job as a cook at a 40-bed CBRF on Milwaukee’s east side. I worked my way up to the manager position. After 11 years, I was ready to move on. Someone who worked at Castle Senior Living told me about the culinary opportunity and they brought me on board.
I discovered senior living by taking a chance and I love it. As a cook, I like knowing what time the residents are eating meals. Plates are made to order, so I don’t have to cook all day long.
What are the qualities that you bring to this job?
I am SERVSAFE certified, which means I’m skilled in restaurant requirements, rules and regulations and sanitation. I attended one year of culinary school and my goal is to return and obtain my certification in dietary management.
What do you enjoy most about working for Castle Senior Living?
It’s definitely a team atmosphere. Everyone is friendly and willing to help out. The residents are awesome and the management incredibly supportive. I think I have a bright and promising future here.
I lead a passionate, hard-working dining team right now. There’s room for growth with Castle Senior Living and that makes it an inviting place to work. It feels like home, which makes me think I should have been working here a long time ago.
Let’s talk about the trends in senior dining. Cafeteria-style food is not the norm any longer, correct?
I am all about 95% scratch cooking and more inspired dining, so one of my goals is to achieve that here. That means including ideas and suggestions from our residents on what they like to eat and what should be on the menu. In fact, the Castle Food Committee kicks off this month. I’ve tried this at other facilities and it was successful. It helps residents feel like they have a hand in making dining decisions.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
It depends on the night. My wife and I are married almost six years with two grandkids who are nine and 12 and live with us. We’re often taking them to games, movies or other fun activities. My wife does more of the meal preparation at home than I do lately, and she’s an excellent cook. I golf a lot, summer, fall and even in winter.
If you were stranded on a desert island, what are the ingredients you’d want to have with you and what would you make?
I would be sure to have taco seasonings, strip steak, tortillas, and avocados. Life is always better with steak tacos!