UPPER EAST SIDE — The dark chocolate and raspberry cake was "to die for," and the duck lasagna "melts in your mouth."
Gavin Kaysen, executive chef of highly acclaimed Upper East Side restaurant Café Boulud, is used to such glowing reviews, but this time they came from different clientele — the seniors at the Carter Burden Center for the Aging.
Kaysen, who has served as the center’s guest chef for the past six years, works with his staff once a year to prepare a special meal for more than 150 people as part of the center's Senior Center Week celebration.
It’s an event that many of the seniors look forward to all year.
“Amazingly, we are served a full meal here every day,” said George Davis, 74, during Thursday's meal. “But there are a few days each year that are really special: Thanksgiving, Christmas and Guest Chef Day.”
Davis enjoyed the chance to sample Kaysen’s cooking and said that without the Burden Center, he would likely not have had the chance.
“Oh no, I can’t afford that,” Davis said. “Just the name Boulud tells you that many people can’t afford that.”
The Burden Center prepares about 1,000 meals each day for seniors on the Upper East Side and Harlem, with about 800 of those delivered to local seniors. Those who are able come to its community centers to enjoy the remaining meals and socialize. The Center asks for a suggested donation of $2 per meal, but seniors without the means are nonetheless offered them for free.
Kaysen started working with the Burden Center six years ago and is now a favorite of members of the luncheon club.
“When he walked in today, they recognized him, they knew him and they just burst into applause” said Bill Dionne, executive director of the Burden Center, describing it as a "Mick Jagger" moment.
Dionne said that the regular luncheon program is a way to make sure seniors, who often face food insecurity, get fed both body and soul.
“Today is very luxurious, to have duck lasagna. It’s great, but the idea of coming together every day for a meal is just as important,” Dionne said. “One person said to me, 'This is the reason I get up and get dressed every day.' To have that motivation to get out and socialize is very valuable.”
Esther Gurian, 80, comes to the Burden luncheon two to three times each week, mostly for the company.
“I don’t mind cooking for myself, but I like having people to talk to,” she said. “I’ve made friends here. We sit at the same table each week and we also go out together.”
Thursday's lunch was to be the last for Kaysen, as he is moving back to his hometown of Minneapolis to open his own restaurant. However, his Café Boulud successor, Aaron Bludorn, will continue the tradition.
“I think it’s a great tradition, and I wouldn’t want it to stop just because I’m leaving,” Kaysen said. “It’s about giving back to the community.”