For a professional chef used to cooing Yelp reviews and an “excellent” rating from the local newspaper, having diners say his food is just “all right” or leaving unfinished plates might be cause for a bad day.
Not for Josh Marcus. The chef-owner of Josh’s Deli in Surfside celebrated his 41st birthday Thursday by volunteering to cook dinner for 17 residents of Bay Oaks Historic Retirement Residence in Miami.
There were some tough critics in the dining room: One gentleman had no interest in the bagels and lox Marcus made (he got two pastrami sandwiches on rye bread instead), a lady asked Marcus to hurry up his pre-meal spiel and just bring out the food already, and reactions included some humbling “OKs” and “all rights.”
Still, Marcus left in good spirits, with a broad smile. “That was such a great experience,” he said.
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It’s the second year Marcus has volunteered on his birthday, a tradition he began last year with a home-building day at Habitat for Humanity. This year, he said, he wanted to do something in a retirement home, but he didn’t think it’d be cooking.
“I have a lot of special memories of going to spend time with my grandmother when she was in an assisted-living facility, just playing cards and hanging out,” Marcus said.
But Bay Oaks event coordinator CB Gaines, a Josh’s Deli customer, persuaded the chef to bring the deli to the home for the day.
Marcus came with two dozen homemade mini bagels (plain and topped with everything seasonings), cured salmon that he sliced paper-thin, smoky house-corned pastrami and macaroni salad.
“I ate as much as I could!” said Marjorie Gould, who had a few bites of everything. “This is a lot of food.”
If some seemed nonplussed with Thursday’s guest-chef dinner, perhaps it’s because they’re used to eating this good at Bay Oaks. Chef Gerthrude Michel, a Le Cordon Bleu graduate, has an on-site garden that grows Key limes for her pies and a chicken coop that provides fresh eggs for the residents’ favorite Friday quiche.
“Every day, we do everything from scratch,” Michel said.
For more on elevated food at South Florida retirement communities, see next Wednesday’s Tropical Life, which will be available online at MiamiHerald.com/living.
Evan S. Benn is food editor of the Miami Herald and Miami.com. On Twitter and Instagram: @EvanBenn.