Oaknoll Retirement Community
Executive Chef Juan Casco
& Resident Marilou Gay
Oaknoll is a retirement community located in Iowa City, Iowa, with a mission to provide exceptional retirement living and health services through LifeCare. LifeCare allows residents to live the lifestyle of their choice, in a continuum of care from independent living to assisted living and nursing care. Oaknoll offers security, activities and recreation, great meals, and a range of floor plans and living options. Oaknoll is a nonprofit organization governed by a local Board of Directors.
Iowa Choice Harvest spoke with Oaknoll’s Executive Chef, Juan Casco, about his work and his commitment to local foods. We also talked with Oaknoll resident Marilou Gay about why she loves Iowa Choice Harvest’s Golden Sweet Corn.
Executive Chef Juan Casco:
How did you get involved in cooking? Could you describe your career path to your job now?
Growing up in the Quad Cities, I started cooking for my family (six brothers and sisters!) when I was eight. I began working in a restaurant kitchen as a high school freshman and fell in love with preparing good food. I decided then it would be my profession and have been doing it for 20 years.
I graduated from the culinary arts program at Black Hawk Community College and worked at the University of Iowa Memorial Union for the next seven years, in Catering & Special Events. After working for the next eight years at a number of Fresh Food Concepts restaurants in the Iowa City area (Mondo’s Salon, Micky’s Irish Pub, Givanni’s, and Mondo’s Draft House), I was given the opportunity to prepare great food using locally-sourced vegetables, fruits, and meats here at Oaknoll beginning in 2014.
What kinds of meals do you serve? How do you meet the special needs of Oaknoll residents?
We serve a wide range of foods, using Iowa Choice Harvest corn and apples whenever we can. When cooking for the elderly, we are always dealing with special dietary requirements and restrictions and must provide flavorful food while satisfying all of the different needs of our residents. That’s why it’s good to have the consistent quality great-tasting products Iowa Choice Harvest provides.
Why did you begin using Iowa Choice Harvest products? What types of dishes do you prepare using Iowa Choice Harvest foods?
We began using Iowa Choice Harvest products because of the superior fresh taste and because everything is all natural—no additives or preservatives. Iowa Choice Harvest is an Iowa-based company. We always want to support local products grown and processed in Iowa. We use Iowa Choice Harvest foods in all sorts of preparations, from soups and sides to salads, condiments, and desserts.
What do you like about using Iowa Choice Harvest foods?
We love that fact that everything Iowa Choice Harvest provides us is grown in Iowa by Iowa farmers—and that some of those farmers also own part of that company and can share in its success. Both the apples and corn provide very good flavor and are consistent in taste and texture. Iowa Choice Harvest delivers directly to our kitchen without charging any delivery fees.
Why have you made Iowa-local foods an important part of your cooking?
Oaknoll prides itself in using locally grown products. It’s good for the community and is fresher and better tasting. Since joining Oaknoll last year I’ve been told many, many times how great the corn tastes—regardless of how it’s prepared or in what dish we use it.
Anything else you’d like to talk about?
One of our residents, Marilou Gay, is a big fan of your corn. She would like to share with you why she likes Iowa Choice Harvest Golden Sweet Corn.
I grew up on an Iowa farm in Iowa, one of six kids. We grew and froze bushels of sweet corn with our parents every summer. We prepared it the same way Iowa Choice Harvest does—picked it in the morning and had it in the freezer that night. No salt or cream or butter—just sweet corn. All the other frozen sweet corn I’ve tried is dry and over-done—not like home-grown or Iowa Choice Harvest. My late husband and I owned a local Iowa City meat market and locker for many, many years and I appreciate good food—the quality and taste of the corn provided by Iowa Choice Harvest and the quality of the meals prepared by Juan here at Oaknoll.