Homeland Chef Manager George Shum: Listening to residents


Homeland Chef Manager George Shum

With his decades in food service, George Shum has learned that the small details make a big difference.

“We ensure our plates are preheated to keep the food warm,” said Homeland Center’s chef manager. “It’s simple but important.”

George joined Homeland in the spring of 2022, bringing his listening and management skills to the complex job of planning, ordering, inventorying, and scheduling that makes every meal served to residents possible.

At Homeland, kitchen staff takes good care of residents and personalizes their meals – something George hasn’t always seen at other nursing communities.

“If they want turkey and Swiss cheese on rye bread, we’ll make it for them as long as we have the ingredients,” he said. “This is something residents can look forward to.”

George’s journey in food service took him from a restaurant in East Side Manhattan to Richmond, Virginia, to Baltimore, and finally to York, where he worked for a chain restaurant and a nursing home food contractor. He has owned restaurants and managed kitchens. He is so skilled on the grill — keeping more than two dozen orders on track — that a coworker once called him “a beast.”

“I can’t teach you that,” he said. “I just go with it.”

George’s father was a chef, and when George was 10, he announced to the family that he would make a lunch of sweet and sour pork, but it didn’t go as well as he had hoped.

“The pork was uncooked,” he said with a laugh. “The middle was raw.”

He has learned to jump in wherever he’s needed.

“I never shy from doing dishes,” he said. “You have to lead by example. If I don’t want to do the dishes, it sends a message that it’s not a good thing. By the end of the day, I’m always drenched with soap.”

At Homeland, George joins the resident council meetings, taking note of suggestions and ideas for maintaining Homeland’s high standards in dining.

“At the most recent meeting, they said the meat is juicy and tender,” he said. “Everything is going well.”

Meal planning and execution for a retirement community always require the dual skills of listening and adjusting. If a resident misses her sugar-free ice cream, George makes sure to put in an order. When one resident shared that the fried fish tasted overly salty, George noticed that the breading was the culprit. He diluted the breading with a 50/50 split of corn meal, and the result was a big hit.

“I try to make it a point to acknowledge people when I see them,” he said. “I always try to put myself into their place. Treat others how you want to be treated. Give them a little bit of dignity. Give them respect. Joke with them. I think that’s important.”

George and his family immigrated to the U.S. from Hong Kong when he was 12. He knew English, although getting used to the spoken rather than the written word took time. In college, he trained as a civil engineer but, amid an oil crisis, couldn’t find work in that field.

Today, he indulges in his passion for building and tinkering by working on classic cars. Currently, he has a smooth-running, six-cylinder 2002 Subaru – an inexpensive purchase that has sucked up thousands of dollars in parts — and a diesel 1985 Mercedes-Benz 300. He has also restored other Subarus to sell or give to his sons.

George has four grown children – two daughters, two sons, none of whom cook – and one granddaughter. He and his wife, a middle school art teacher in Baltimore, live in Dallastown.

He is happy to be working at Homeland.

“This is the first time I worked for a nonprofit organization, and I see the difference in how they treat the residents,” he said. “It’s really nice.”