CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) – A chef who has worked in the food industry for 28 years is honoring his late grandparents by now cooking for seniors in Tampa Bay.

Chef Jose Romero is the food service director and executive chef at Aravilla Clearwater. He’s been working in senior living communities for the past 12 years. The new site, located at 3055 Union Street, will open in April.

Originally from Colombia, Romero and his family moved to New York in 1988. Romero said he began as a line cook at 17 years old at a fast food restaurant when his family moved to Florida. That’s where he fell in love with cooking, before moving to an Italian restaurant, then working with a French chef.

“Once I got the opportunity to start working and I worked in the kitchen, it came easy for me and it was something that I felt comfortable doing. Through the years, I just kept working in the food industry and that’s basically how I built my career,” he said. “The more and more that I learned, the more I was hungry for more.”

Romero moved on to become the executive chef at Home Shopping Network, in addition to other management positions at other companies.

However, when traveling became a little too expensive, Romero began to explore other options. He found a senior living facility looking for a chef.

Senior living facilities are something close to Romero’s heart. After his grandfather died back at home in Colombia, his grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. She lived in a senior living facility for a year but Romero said she “declined quickly” before she passed.

“I figured, well, cooking is cooking anywhere you go. I said, ‘I’m going to give it a try.’ To my surprise, when I started working there, very shortly, I found out that this was more than just cooking. It was more than just putting a plate of food in front of a customer or a resident,” he said. “This was more about having a relationship and building relationships with the residents.”

Romero explained that it’s possible a senior living facility may be the last place a resident lives. He mentioned a lot of the residents at his previous facility had great families, but he did witness those who may have had family members far away, or no family at all.

“Sometimes we’re the only people that they see, that they get to interact with. Growing up in Colombia, I was very, very close to my grandparents from my mother’s side. My grandfather is my hero. He taught me a lot of values of… being a young man. He adored my grandmother,” Romero said. “Being in the senior living industry was very close to my heart. It just reminded me of my grandfather and my grandmother… and I said, ‘this is where I want to end my career. This is where I want to be until I can’t do it anymore.’”

Romero said he is a hands-on supervisor and enjoys speaking with his residents on a daily basis. He’s excited for the latest facility to open. He said the company lost a lot of workers but they have to continue to take care or residents and prepare to open the new location.

“When we have our meal times, I go out to the dining rooms, greet the residents, talk to them. I make sure that they’re pleased, that they’re happy with our food, the presentation of the food, the taste of the food, that our servers are doing a good job of taking care of them, that they’re doing the proper procedures, that they’re following all of the proper protocols, especially now, because of COVID,” he said.

Romero told 8 On Your Side his goal is to become an executive director of a senior living company and to eventually run his own building.

Aravilla Clearwater will open in April. Those interested in learning more can go online or call 727-260-2826.

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