‘Cooking with Zak’ program gets residents mixing it up


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A new activity got cooked up at Rennes recently after Dietary Cook Zak Spencer noticed residents showing some interest in the meal prep.

“A couple of the residents would swing by the kitchen every now and again and they would ask to help,” recalls Zak. “So, we decided to give it a shot, and it turned out pretty well the first time.”

In mid-August, Rennes Health & Rehab Center-West hosted its inaugural “Cooking with Zak” session to make mixed-berry trifles, an activity which was so popular that the facility plans to host one each month, every third Wednesday, said Deanna Kodric, activities director at Rennes Health & Rehab Center-West.

Zak, who is originally from Georgia and lived in Jacksonville, Florida, says trifles are a popular dessert in the South. He decided to bring the sweet, layer-cake-like dessert to the residents, demonstrating how they’re assembled using multiple layers of pound cake, custard cream filling and berries.

“They look good, and everyone likes them,” he said. “We wanted to keep it simple. Residents chose what flavor they would like, and we chit-chatted while I was making them.”

Zak also wants to choose recipes that work well for all different diets. “We don’t want anyone to be left out,” he said. For September’s session, residents will be making individual personal pizzas. “I’m thinking about the way to make them, and what kinds of toppings to include.”

Zak, who began his role as a dietary cook in January, has a background in cooking, working in restaurants since age 16—starting as a dishwasher—learning to cook at about age 18.

He worked his way up and is largely self-taught, “always learning new foods and techniques” as he perfects concoctions, including a very special banana bread recipe.

Going forward, he said he’s “really excited to hang out with the residents and get to know them a bit more, and continue cooking with them,” he said. “They all seemed to have fun with it.”

Zak jumps in to help with other events, too, including making cake pops that look like softball to help celebrate a recent charity baseball game.

Building events around food “can help bring residents together because we can all make the food together, socialize and get to know each other more,” Deanna said.

“Zak has a personality that the residents love,” she said. “The residents love him, and they wish he could host the event every day.”


Use boxed cake batter & bake according to box directions.

Once cake is done, let cool and cut into 1-inch cubes. Set cake cubes aside.

Slice up berries of your choice. Add sugar and lemon juice to taste, let sit.

Mix pudding mix and let completely cool, then fold in whipped cream gently.

In individual 8 oz. cups, layer ingredients starting with cake, then a spoonful of pudding mixture, and berries, then top with whipped cream.