Asia Godbee worried that she hadn’t cut the beef for the day’s dinner correctly, but Connie Lewis stepped into her mentoring role with assurances that she was fine.
“When I cut my strips, I cut them smaller than that,” Connie said. “You cut them thicker than I do, but you did well.”
“Learning process,” Asia conceded.
Before Head Cook Connie Lewis retired on Jan. 31 after 22 1/2 years with Homeland, she worked closely with Asia, passing on her years of knowledge. Though residents and staff alike will miss Connie and the love she put into her dishes, the kitchen is in good hands with Asia, who will continue the tradition of culinary excellence she learned from Connie.
Connie Lewis joined Homeland in 1997. She started as a dietary aide and rose to a cooking position, where she flourished.
In recent years, Homeland employed Asia as Connie’s assistant because an additional person was needed to prepare daily meals while also fulfilling special requests. While a day’s breakfast menu might constitute eggs, waffles, and fruit, residents might request a Thomas’ English muffin or blueberry pancakes, and the Homeland kitchen accommodates.
“We’re unique,” says Asia. “I’ve talked to other people who work in retirement homes, and all the residents get the same meal every day.”
“We cater to the residents,” adds Connie. And that, says Asia, was the first thing she learned about working at Homeland.
A Harrisburg High School student completing a project on elder care, Asia first came to Homeland five years ago. Before graduation, she worked the evening shift part-time in the Dietary Department. Asia switched to day shift after graduation, learning the various positions within the department and eventually became Connie’s assistant.
Working with Connie and day cook Doretha Smith, Asia has learned everything from proper techniques for putting pans in the oven to the correct order of lasagna layers, and from strict procedures for food allergies to timing the preparation of each dish.
“If we don’t make something the right way, the residents will know,” Asia says.
Connie is looking forward retiring but says she hopes to keep working part-time, perhaps in-home health care. She looks forward to sleeping in; however, she says she will miss the residents.
“I’m going to miss their faces,” she says. “I’m going to have to come back to see everyone.”
Homeland prepares residents’ meals from scratch — including Connie’s famous macaroni and cheese, always a hit at Homeland’s annual holiday party. The kitchen staff carves up the daily meats.
Connie says she worked in the Homeland kitchen for about five years before she felt fully in command of the process – and says she learned from every mistake. She has transmitted that philosophy to Asia, who admits to the day she curdled the milk for the alfredo sauce – twice – because the kitchen’s high-powered kettles heat rapidly.
Asia knows she gets the benefit of the doubt because she’s learning.
“I like cooking,” she says. “I like learning. It’s interesting learning different techniques from different people and putting my own touch to it.”
Resident Geoffrey Davenport, who worked most of his life in family restaurants, said he’s sorry to see Connie leaving but is happy for her retirement.
“She’s excellent,” he says. Even when she’s not in the kitchen, she’s in the dining room, dishing out food or serving residents at their tables.
“Sometimes, chefs think that serving the food is beneath them, but she’s very willing to do that,” he says.
As Connie hands over the mantle, what are her hopes for Asia?
“Longevity and success,” she says. “Asia brings kindness to her role and always puts the well-being of residents first.”
As for the lessons Asia learned from Connie?
“I gained her strength in aspect,” Asia says. “When she prepares dishes, she knows what she’s doing, and she’s solid. That’s how I want to get, to be confident in my meal, so I can look at it and say I produced a good meal.”
“And she has,” interjects Connie. “She produces good meals.”