‘I went back to school at 60 so I could make a change in aged care food’

Dec 02, 2019
Lyn Fidler went 'back to school' later in life, training as a chef so that she could have a positive influence on the aged care food industry. Source: Stock Photo/Getty Images

After a successful career in healthcare, working with specialised medical foods and other aspects of healthcare at a corporate management level, I’d seen enough behind the scenes to know that change is overdue in the aged care food industry.

To understand the issues plaguing the industry you just need to read the news. Under-funding food services is one of the main issues that directly affects the quality, efficacy and overall enjoyment of the food and nutrition that is so vital for aged care residents.

To say I was concerned about the meals being presented to our aged community in the latter stages of their life is an understatement. This concern was one of the inspirations behind my career change, fuelled by a desire to get involved and make a difference.

I resigned from my job and applied to an institution that I knew would provide the perfect foundation for my career change; the iconic cooking school, Le Cordon Bleu. I applied as part of the first intake of students at the Brisbane campus when it launched at South Bank TAFE in July 2018.

Being a mature-aged student wasn’t a concern for me. I had previously completed short courses at other Le Cordon Bleu campuses during my expat years in New Zealand and Canada and in fact, was surrounded by peers of all ages also looking to achieve formal training in the French and modern European cooking techniques. I knew studying at the world’s oldest culinary institution would allow me to incorporate the history, philosophy, professionalism and discipline embedded in their teaching and inject this into aged care food.

My chosen course was the school’s Diplôme de Cuisine. In Australia, this diploma includes the Certificate III in Commercial Cookery, so you get both certificates by completing the course, which is a real advantage.

During my year of study, I was thrilled to meet M. Andre Cointreau, president of Le Cordon Bleu International during his visit to Brisbane for the formal opening of the new campus kitchens. I was also delighted to work with chef Tom Milligan, Le Cordon Bleu Australia’s technical director, when he was directing a truffle demonstration class at Australia’s largest French festival, Le Festival.

Upon completing my Diplôme de Cuisine, I received the Le Cordon Bleu Award for Excellence in Culinary Arts in my cohort, in recognition of achieving the highest aggregated marks in the final practical exams for Basic, Intermediate and Superior levels of the course. The award came with a grant towards further study with the cooking school, a huge bonus, which I’ll take advantage of in the near future.

Lyn Fidler and Jason MacKavanagh
Lyn Fidler accepting her award from Le Cordon Bleu Head Chef Cuisine, Jason MacKavanagh. Source: Erika Rutledge/Red Havas

Since graduating on October 28, I feel extremely fulfilled to have completed a life-long dream and confident that I am in a better position to assist in transforming the aged care food industry. In the meantime, I am gaining practical experience of à la carte and event catering working two to three days a week in a highly regarded event centre.

By combining my new culinary qualification and expertise gained in my former career I can explore the changes taking place in the aged-care food industry and seek to improve what is served on the plate to aged-care residents.

There are some excellent not-for-profit organisations already working to achieve change in this area such as The Maggie Beer Foundation and The Lantern Project. People of influence such as Maggie Beer and Dr Cherie Hugo are both inspiring leaders that work tirelessly within their organisations to bring about change to the quality of life through provision of good food and nutrition for residents in aged care. I am currently reaching out to these not-for-profits as I feel my experience can add perspective from both sides of the industry.

There are several commercial companies that also cater to this market specifically, but what has become clear in my research is the more we collectively seek to make change, the more likely it is to create tangible positive outcomes for residents.

My experience of returning to study later in life has granted me with the most incredible opportunities, and more importantly, it has given me the tools to make a qualified change to aged-care industry food standards. My mission is to now use my formal culinary training and my extensive experience working in specialised foods to ensure aged-care residents receive the same high quality cuisine and enjoyment of food as everyone else.

This is an exciting time for aged care in the broad sense. The opportunity to bring new ideas and skills to the food landscape within the industry not only benefits the residents, but the industry itself. My focus is on being part of the change in providing great food that is financially sustainable.

It’s my belief and goal that we can do both and we can do both better. We can deliver food that is flavoursome, seasonal and nutritious and still cost-effective. In achieving this goal, the industry could be headlining the news for the right reasons.

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