Executive Chef of The Village at Penn State, Matt Lambert, has been in the culinary industry for over 20 years. Relatively new to this fun and exciting retirement community, Chef Matt says he’s greatly enjoyed having the ability to make a resident’s day simply by providing an outstanding dining experience.
Chef Matt’s passion for food and cooking began many years ago and he’s been comfortable in the kitchen since childhood. “My interest in cooking began at home. My mom, and even my father to an extent, were pretty enthusiastic cooks and we had a family dinner every night. By the age of 12, I knew how to cook dinner on my own,” he recalls.
Years later, Matt followed his passion for food and cooking, and began pursuing his degree in culinary school. “I got a degree in Culinary Arts and Baking and Pastry Arts from Johnson and Wales in Providence, Rhode Island,” he says.
From there, Matt worked in a series of independent restaurants and hotels throughout New England, and about 20 years ago made his way to where he lives now in Central Pennsylvania. It was there where he began working at Penn State University’s School of Hospitality Management. With his wide variety of experience, Matt decided to open a large dining hub in the small city of Mifflinburg, PA where he worked for five years. Here, Matt ran into Duane Leitzell, director of dining services at The Village.
Finding his Way to The Village… An Executive Chef’s Journey
“Duane and I worked together nearly 20 years ago at Penn State,” he explains. “We bumped into one another and he was looking to replace a chef and I was looking to make a career move, and here I am,” Matt says proudly.
Beginning his role as Executive Chef at The Village in November of 2019, Chef Matt says that what he enjoys most about his profession is getting to know the residents and listening to their feedback. “When I first started here I didn’t realize what a major part of their social life the dining experience is,” he explains.
It’s amazing how you can make a resident’s day simply by putting out a great meal.Executive Chef of The Village at Penn State, Matt Lambert
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“On a normal day, when the dining room is open, I like to get out of the kitchen and talk to the residents. I get to know them and learn their likes and dislikes. Even if it is criticism, I enjoy their comments and make it better for the next time,” he says.
Matt explains that the goal of dining staff at The Village is to exceed residents’ expectations. “It doesn’t matter if we’re serving filet mignon or a hamburger, we do everything we can to put forward the highest quality products.” Matt also says that part of what makes The Village’s dining program so successful is his dedicated team of staff who give residents an optimal dining experience every day.
We feel so lucky to have a chef whose menus and food are outstanding. The chef and director of dining services make eating at The Village a very special experience. The wait staff brighten our days with their efficiency of service, kind words and big smiles.Marge and Max S., residents at The Village
On a normal day in the dining room at The Village, residents enjoy a true restaurant-like experience. Traditionally, their dining room includes a warm greeting at the hostess stand with a full-service wait staff who provides an extensive menu with different options for soups, salads, entrees, and a dessert. “Each night’s menu is different,” Chef Matt affirms. He also adds that The Village’s Bistro is a resident favorite for a more casual dining experience. “We make a lot of lighter fare here with fun appetizers. We also have a wood stone pizza oven so we make lots of wood-oven roasted sandwiches and personal pizzas.”
Since the start of this pandemic, The Village has had to make various restrictions to their dining experience in order to keep the community safe. Matt says that while they’ve temporarily closed The Bistro and dining room, the dining staff has attempted to maintain as much normalcy as possible for residents. “We’ve had to shut down our dining rooms and deliver food to residents’ doors in to-go boxes, but the menu itself has stayed the same. So residents have a bit of normalcy in their routine that they otherwise might not have.”
Matt also indicates that since the Bistro is closed, The Village’s staff have been making special pizza deliveries to residents’ doors. “Since residents can’t get their wood oven pizzas at The Bistro we’ve been delivering personal pizzas twice a week, which have been really popular. We box them and deliver them.”
The Village’s dining staff does everything they can to provide an optimal dining experience for residents while keeping the community safe, they continue to express their culinary creativity and maintain hope for the future. “Since the dining rooms have been closed, it has been quieter than normal and we are using some of that time to come up with a new menu that we’d like to launch in the future when this pandemic settles down. We have a lot of new recipes in this project that we’re really excited about.”
As they look forward to a brighter future, Matt is thrilled to share one of his personal recipes for you to try at home with simple items from your pantry and fridge.
Chef Matt’s Rustic Apple Crostata Recipe
- 2 granny smith apples
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 TBSP lemon juice
- 1 pre-made pie shell
For streusel topping
- 2 sticks butter
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup flour
- 1/2 cup rolled oats
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 cup pecans, chopped (optional)
- Peel and core apples. Slice thin.
- Combine sliced apples with sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, flour, & lemon juice – combine by hand.
- Place pre-made pie shell flat on a baking sheet pan.
- Arrange apples in the center of the pie crust – leave a 1-2 inch crust on the perimeter of the pie dough.
- Fold edges of pie crust towards the center of the crostata – the apples should NOT be covered by the pie dough .
- Make streusel topping by dicing butter into 1 inch cubes; place streusel ingredients in food processor and pulse until crumbly.
- Place streusel on top of apples.
- Place crostata on metal sheet pan – bake in 375-degree oven for 15-20 min – crust will become golden brown
- Allow crostata to rest at room temp for 10 min.
- Slice & serve warm – add your favorite ice cream & make it ala mode!