Bernie Karlov has been chef at Life Care Center of The Willows less than a year, but he’s already made the 100-bed nursing home proud. His slow-cooked spare ribs and chuck wagon slow-simmered baked beans wowed at the third annual Taste of Care in June, where The Willows took the competition’s highest prize: Top Chef.

Eleven skilled nursing and assisted living facilities in Valparaiso, IN, squared off. Prompt Ambulance sponsored the event, with donations going to a local senior services alliance. 

The award was unexpected because The Willows “is not the largest facility in town,” says Stacey Kellogg, director of marketing. “We were up against things like grilled shrimp on skewers and prime rib carving stations.” But The Willows’ entry perfectly represented its “comfort foods with a flair,” according to Kellogg. 

The facility prides itself on restaurant-style meals that cater to residents’ tastes. Other favorites are beef stroganoff and anything grilled in the courtyard, Kellogg says.

Like the popular “Top Chef” reality show, Taste of Care blends competition and entertainment. Entrants choose themes and don costumes, drawing big crowds, Kellogg explains. But she adds The Willows does not provide succulent meals just to rake in awards: “It’s part of our fiber and fabric.”