When Bruce McLaren Retirement Village opened its doors in 2014, chef Marie Gonzales knew that was where she wanted to work.
“Ryman is the number one in healthcare services and I thought because Ryman is first class I will grow as well,” says Marie, a mum to four sons aged between 18 and 26 who was already working as a chef in the retirement sector.
“The head chef, Casey, said he only had part time work available at the time but I needed full time as I have four boys to feed. Two years later I got another chance and here I am!”
Since working at Bruce McLaren Marie says her passion for being a chef has grown.
“The trust Casey and the other chefs have shown me has encouraged me to pursue doing better and I have never felt so fulfilled and proud of what I do.”
Since then Marie has adopted her colleagues as her second family.
“I work 40 hours a week in the kitchen so I spend a lot of time with them and look at them as my other family.”
The residents also hold a special place in her affections.
“I was actually raised by my grandparents because my mother had me so young. I was the firstborn grandchild and they loved me so much.
“So to ease that hurt of not seeing my grandparents I put my heart with my residents,” she says.
Marie will often talk to the residents at lunchtime to see if they are enjoying what she has cooked for them and will use the feedback to try different ideas.
“I think I am good with older people because of my grandparents and great grandparents and I will always try my best to make them happy.”
Marie says catering for so many different people with different tastes and needs means there is a lot to consider during preparation.
That list includes onion-free, lactose-free, gluten-free, vegetarian, halal and allergies to corn, chicken and even pumpkin.
“We have a lot of special dietary requirements to cater for so I look after all of those,” she says proudly.
In 2017 Marie helped the village to introduce Ryman’s new Delicious menu, which gives residents different options at mealtimes.
“It’s good because the residents have more choices,” she says.
Being quite competitive, Marie was particularly proud when she came up with a lamb’s fry recipe using breadcrumbs, gravy and bacon that was a big hit.
“I won the residents’ hearts with that one,” she grins.
“The thing I love the most is when the residents love the food I have prepared, and say’ it’s like my mum’s way of cooking’. That’s really rewarding.”
Marie says she was very thankful to have her Bruce McLaren family supporting her through the tough times she endured after splitting up from her husband who she married at just 16.
“I have good friends, a good job and I have raised four beautiful boys who are so sweet to me. They have saved me really and now I am trying to be the best bubbly Marie!”
Ever ambitious and keen to learn, Marie has done short stints at some of Ryman’s other villages to try and improve herself.
“My motto is ‘I never stop learning and I always want to learn more’. I worked at Frances Hodgkins in Dunedin, at Possum Bourne in Pukekohe and Grace Joel in St Heliers and it was really helpful to see some different ways of doing things.
“I had the idea that I could be a roaming chef!” she laughs.
In the meantime, Marie was one of two staff enrolled on a pilot programme to train for a Ryman Cookery Scholarship.
The programme, which is funded by Ryman and run by Service IQ, enables her to train on the job for her Level 4 in Cookery and complete written tasks under the mentorship of Head Chef Casey.
Marie also loves sharing her knowledge and often helps to train up other Ryman chefs.
“I always say to them do your best and to always respect the food of the residents.
She adds: “Ryman has given me so much opportunity and made me feel important and that’s what I need the most.”