Care for the elderly in Northumberland.
Debbie Armstrong, our Head Cook at Charlotte Straker House, has lived in Corbridge for 31 years, and has worked at the Charlotte Straker Project since 2003.
She originally worked for our organisation as a carer but in 2005, after an opportunity opened up in the kitchens, she decided to apply and her career took a definite turn! “I’ve always loved cooking and baking, and I’d worked for a number of years in restaurants and pubs, so at that time, it seemed like the obvious move. A friend persuaded me to apply, and I got the job. After a year or so, I was asked to become Head Cook, so it was a steep learning curve, and I really learnt on the job.”
Debbie completed a NVQ3 in Hospitality and Management plus a Diploma in Nutrition (Distinction) and has completed other specialist courses on supporting elderly residents with different nutritional requirements. She now manages 5 permanent kitchen staff and 2 “bank” staff, and deals with the kitchen budget, supply ordering, creation of menus, holiday cover, staff management and appraisals.
“My favourite part of the job is seeing residents obviously enjoy their meals, and making food that everyone looks forward to. Each time a resident enters Charlotte Straker we have an Admissions form that they, or their families, fill in with their likes and dislikes and any nutritional requirements or allergies, which is posted up in the kitchen so that we can refer to it at any time. Some residents need a gluten free or diabetic menu, and some need a soft or liquid diet. I like to make sure that whatever the restrictions, each resident enjoys their food.”
Debbie is a wonderful baker, and makes a birthday cake for each resident, in whatever flavour they choose. Last year she won third prize in Corbridge’s Bake Off competition and is already planning her creation for this year’s event! Debbie orders locally sourced ingredients wherever possible, including meat from Halls of Corbridge and fruit and veg from Stobo’s of Corbridge. She likes to make a special effort on Christmas Day and works closely with Jayne, our Activities Coordinator, in creating dinners and buffets for other occasions such as Valentine’s, Halloween and New Year’s Day.
“Sometimes residents have a small appetite, so it’s important to make each meal look as appetizing as possible, so that they are keen to eat and enjoy the flavours.” She says. “Since I started, I’ve gradually improved the catering team, and I’m happy to say that we have had a 5 star rating from Northumberland County Council for a number of years.”
Debbie lives with her husband Ken, and has two grown up sons and 3 grandsons. Her two sons have carried on the “foodie” family tradition, with son Gary Armstrong working as a renowned freelance chef in the North East, and son John qualifying as a Master Butcher. “I enjoy working at Charlotte Straker. I’ve got to know our residents very well, and we have a great atmosphere in the kitchen. There’s often a singsong going on, which everyone seems to enjoy!”