Nyberg eager to please with down-home cooking

Published 8:21 am Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Jason Nyberg is executive chef at Sage Oak, an assisted living and memory care community that caters to residents’ needs — including healthy and delicious food. He said he’s never seen a restaurant or senior living facility so eager to please.

Nyberg grew up in restaurants. His father, Richard Nyberg, opened the first Rikenjacks in Jackson, La. Jason Nyberg described it as a brewery in the back of a muscadine winery. The Nybergs opened Laughing Pines in Slidell in an old home. The restaurant was on the first floor and the family lived upstairs. His first job was washing dishes at the Lake Charles Country Club, where his mother was event planner and food and beverage manager.

“I was 12 he said, but I was tall and had facial hair so I looked old enough to be working,” he said.

Being around a family that cooked and loved good food, it was inevitable. Nyberg learned the trade. He worked in the food industry as a high school and college student. However, he didn’t see himself becoming an executive chef when he enrolled in the McNeese State University engineering program.

“I was great at math and the sciences, but I wasn’t happy,” he said.

Then Josh Priola gave him an opportunity at Streetbreads. Nyberg moved through the ranks and became traveling general manager.

“It was a good decision for me,” Nyberg said. “I enjoyed the travel and the pay was good enough for me to make a start.”

Sage Oak is a community of five houses with 16 residents. Each house has its own chef.

“Each group of residents is developing its own personality,” Nyberg said. “These people grew up eating great Louisiana home-style cooking. That’s what they like. That’s what they want.”

Nyberg and his crew of chefs deliver a down-home cooking that’s been “healthy-ed” up a smidgen, for instance cauliflower rice rather than rice. Gravy is a pureed mixture that contains mainly vegetables.

“Tonight, we’re having smothered pork chops and greens,” Nyberg said.

Nyberg’s most requested meal is his meatloaf which he’s developed from a cook here, a restaurant there and a recipe or two.

“I made it a lot when I was at Southern Spice and I can tell you it’s not pretty,” he said. “I serve it with Duchess potatoes and Italian peas and carrots, a recipe I stole from Fire and Oak.”

Nyberg said his meatloaf may be the residents’ favorite, but most of the time the highlight of the meal is the dessert baked and served up by 22-year-old Sous Chef Layla Jones.

“If I had that kind of talent when I was her age, I would probably be cooking in New York now,” he said. “She is the dessert queen. If she doesn’t know how to do something she’ll research it until she can. She has an undeterrable drive.”

Nyberg’s favorite meal “in the whole wide world” is his wife’s pot roast.

“That’s why I married her,” he said. “My mom grew up in Ohio. Her pot roast is dry and stringy. Ketchup was a mainstay. When my wife and I started dating, the first meal she cooked for me was a pot roast. When I took the tinfoil off that and saw those glistening vegetables and meat so tender it was ready to fall apart, I knew she was the one for me. Plus, after cooking all day for others, there’s nothing more comforting than to be able to go home and sit down for a pot roast prepared by my wife. It’s making me hungry just thinking about it. She has to have hers with rice, but she always makes me mashed potatoes.”