Two new team members in Culinary Services took different roads to Sharon Towers. But a common passion led them here: To help enrich the quality of life (and dining) in our community.
A Gracious Clientele
Executive Sous Chef Idris Muhammad has cooked in some of the nation’s finest restaurants. But working at Sharon Towers these past five months has given him something he never had to this degree.
A kind and gracious clientele.
Serving such an audience adds to the joy in helping Director of Culinary Services Chad Lauderbaugh, Chef Brady Lutz and the rest of the team make the dining experience special. “Cooking for residents and staff,” he says, “they are so grateful, it makes me grateful.”
As Executive Sous Chef, Idris oversees production in the kitchen. He focuses on making sure everything is fresh, consistent and first-rate. “I don’t run a race for second place,” he says. His hours vary but typically he works from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. The morning he paused to do an interview for this blog post, he arrived at 10 a.m. to prep for dinner.
While noting that he’s always cooking, consider Idris a maestro who helps oversee the operation for all of Sharon Towers’ dining options – including Allison’s fine dining and the main dining room. As renovations progress and dining moves back to the permanent spaces and expands, so will his interactions with the team. He loves the camaraderie with team members, all working together to prepare delicious meals every day.
When those meals are served, look for Idris as he circulates in search of feedback. Building relationships is another perk of the job.
“It’s a blessing,” he says.
Idris, who calls himself “a beef-and-chicken kind of guy” who also likes French Creole and Indian fare, is helping Culinary Services make the transition to the new kitchen and dining options. He likens it to putting the pieces of the puzzle in place.
“When it’s done,” he says, “it’s going to be really, really, really good.”
Bringing Sweetness to Sharon Towers
As someone who wants to make the world a sweeter place, Kelli Watkins has the perfect job. The new pastry chef at Sharon Towers gets to make 450 to 500 desserts each day. The ingredients differ from one treat to the next, but whether she’s whipping up custard or cakes, Kelli’s goal remains the same.
“It’s to show people that there’s still a little bit of good in the world,” she says.
Kelli made a discovery early in her culinary career. “Cakes,” she says, “that’s where I found my groove.” During high school, she worked in a Raleigh bakery specializing in wedding and other special-occasion cakes. She graduated from Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte in 2015 with a degree in Baking & Pastry Arts & Food Service Management. She arrived at Sharon Towers in April after working as a pastry chef at Notre Dame University of Maryland in Baltimore.
She’s excited to be part of the team led by Director of Culinary Services Chad Lauderbaugh, and excited to be creating a variety of sweets for the Sharon Towers community. Kelli will oversee desserts for all of Sharon Towers’ dining options. For those who opt for fine dining at Allison’s, she’ll prepare two to three desserts, such offerings as custard, mouse and lava cake. “Very classic and pretty desserts,” she says. For the main dining room options at lunch and dinner, she’ll go less formal, treats like brownies and blondies. She also hopes to help residents celebrate happy occasions by making birthday cakes and the like. With a laugh that says “the earlier the better,” Kelli reports that she’s getting to work at 4 a.m.
Things to know about Kelli:
When it’s time for her to indulge, her go-to desserts are the French classics, tiramisu and crème brulée.
She experienced the beauty of retirement communities when her 86-year-old grandmother, Shirley, moved into one in Florida in 2021. “She’s thriving beyond her years,” Kelli says.
In addition to her culinary skills, she brings to Sharon Towers an appreciation for senior living and a heart for serving people. During the pandemic, she became a certified EMT and spent two-plus years responding to medical emergencies in Baltimore.
“It helped fuel my passion even more to help people,” she says.
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