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From the Neighborhood Press

Elevating the Retirement Dining Experience in New Mexico

At our Neighborhood in Rio Rancho, we are proud to have Charlie Dowler as our dedicated Head Chef, who recently celebrated his 5th anniversary on Memorial Day. Charlie’s passion and commitment to culinary excellence have transformed the dining experience for our senior community.

With years of experience as a Sous Chef and now as the Head Chef, Charlie has been on a mission to elevate the dishes served at our community. His goal is to create meals that evoke cherished memories and provide a sense of love and comfort through the power of taste and aroma. “Your strongest tie to memory is the sense of smell, so some of it is trying to recreate experiences I had as a child.”

With years of experience as a Sous Chef and now as the Head Chef, Charlie has been on a mission to elevate the dishes served at our community. His goal is to create meals that evoke cherished memories and provide a sense of love and comfort through the power of taste and aroma. “Your strongest tie to memory is the sense of smell, so some of it is trying to recreate experiences I had as a child.”

One of Charlie’s achievements has been building an exclusive dining system for our community. He has meticulously trained our knowledgeable staff, with 80% of them having joined our team within the past year. Charlie understands the importance of finding talented individuals who not only possess culinary skills but also genuinely care about what they do. Building a high-quality staff and menu requires time and effort, and Charlie has dedicated himself to this pursuit

Notably, Charlie fosters an environment where communication and teamwork thrive. He believes that anger and ridicule have no place in the kitchen and emphasizes the importance of open and effective communication. Charlie draws inspiration from the incredible individuals he has worked with, and their passion and skill have elevated his own craft.

Charlie’s goal is to expand beyond people’s expectations of food at a retirement community.

“The stereotype is that seniors only love casseroles and other foods from the 1950s, but that isn’t true. We have an opportunity to not only have common staples but also introduce new dishes and educate the staff and the community.” Charlie has found that as long as he offers a variety of vegetables and meat, this community in Albuquerque is very happy!

Charlie is rolling out his plan to have some signature dishes on the weekends. One of the signature dishes he’s taken pride in is his ossobuco. Ossobuco is a hearty Italian dish made by braising veal shanks in a rich stock with white wine and tomatoes. From start to finish the whole process is 6 hours. “I enjoy complex flavors.”

At the time of this interview, Charlie was also prepping Italian Bruschol (a classic Italian dish if you’re from the coast) for the next day. The sausage is braised in fresh wine and then tomatoes for about 3 hours, slow cooking, which brings out all the natural flavors from the wine and tomatoes.

Other signature dishes that Charlie is developing will have an herbal essence, so that when you bite into it, the essence comes out. (An example will be sage in poultry, but this is for the future, so our recipes are still in the works). “I would love to work with sea bass and shark in the future!”

“I will also be picking foods that will pair well with an aperitif, etc.”

For Taco Tuesdays, Charlie has not only done traditional tacos, but also branched out with tacos al pastor, street tacos, burritos, etc. Charlie wants to also try a mole sauce in the future.

“I don’t want to have any limits, this is a fine dining restaurant.”

Charlie loves to cook in general, but also has a passion for the senior community in particular. “I love to cook for older people because I enjoy their company. I had wonderful grandparents who introduced me to different cultures, they would take me on trips and we would experience different cuisines together. I do this to honor the path they showed my brother and I.”

Not only does Charlie relate from his own life experience, but he also prefers working in an environment where he gets to develop relationships with the same people over and over. “I chat with the seniors, I’m here quite a bit, I get to know them, build relationships, they just have a deeper appreciation for that experience. I wouldn’t get to build those relationships if I were working at a restaurant or hotel where people come and go.”

“The elderly sometimes get a bad wrap, but that hasn’t been my experience. Overall, most are very grateful and it brings joy to me to see them get excited, and the fact that excellent food means so much more to them at this age vs. younger. Having a dining experience when you go out to eat is a bit of a dying art and that is what I want to create here.”

“I’ve always been an old soul. These are my people! I feel very much at home, I’m supposed to be here.”

Charlie began his career in senior living as the Sous Chef in Brookdale, which at one point was the largest retirement community in America. He worked at another privately owned assisted living community called Revena.

Charlie doesn’t have a college degree. After two and a half years of college studying to be a chemist, personal tragedies curtailed school. After that, Charlie worked very hard to build a career. “That’s a big part of why I connect to food in general, because of the science behind it.”

Charlie started his chef career at O’hare’s. He was there for 8 years and started from the ground up, he got a job as a dishwasher, and every few months worked hard to get promoted and work his way up to Sous Chef.

“I would help the owner anyway I could, install an A/C, help with plumbing, or other maintenance.”

Charlie had a lot of different perspectives on cooking and what it meant, the most important being that it is made with care. “I got discouraged whenever working with people that didn’t have the same level of care as I did.”

Charlie also enjoys music, drawing and painting when he’s not working.

“I’m passionate about what I do, always striving to be better, learning from my mistakes, and I try to stay humble and strive for greatness.”

Charlie is truly a believer in never resting on his laurels.

“A key to my success is in order to care about the food you have to care about the people!”

At Neighborhood in Rio Rancho, we are honored to have Charlie Dowler as our Head Chef, bringing his expertise and passion to enrich the lives of our residents through exceptional dining experiences.

2 responses to “Elevating the Retirement Dining Experience in New Mexico

  1. I loved reading your story ❤️
    God bless you as you strive to bring enjoyment to your retirement family!
    May you continue to find contentment in your gifting.

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