When COVID hit, this CT couple turned their kitchen into a TV studio to teach seniors to cook. Now, it’s ‘a community.”

Photo of Brianna Gurciullo
Susan Doyle, who uses Zoom to broadcast her show: Downsized Gourmet, poses in her kitchen at her home in Stamford, Conn., on Tuesday October 5, 2021. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in June of 2020 Susan and her husband Paul, who takes care of all things tech related, started the cooking show and invited members of several senior centers and facilities to tune in. Their work has culminated in a cookbook which will raise money for the Fairfield County Walk to End Alzheimer's slated for Sunday October 10th.

Susan Doyle, who uses Zoom to broadcast her show: Downsized Gourmet, poses in her kitchen at her home in Stamford, Conn., on Tuesday October 5, 2021. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in June of 2020 Susan and her husband Paul, who takes care of all things tech related, started the cooking show and invited members of several senior centers and facilities to tune in. Their work has culminated in a cookbook which will raise money for the Fairfield County Walk to End Alzheimer's slated for Sunday October 10th.

Christian Abraham / Hearst Connecticut Media

STAMFORD — When senior centers closed their doors last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Susan Doyle donned an apron and, with the help of her husband, Paul, transformed her kitchen into a TV studio.

Since June 2020, seniors from around Fairfield County and beyond have tuned in monthly via Zoom to watch Susan give cooking demonstrations. The Doyles, who live in Stamford, took a break for a couple months this summer and then returned for season two of their show, called “The Downsized Gourmet,” in September.

“It’s hard to cook for one or two people on a budget, and so what seniors tend to do is not eat very healthy,” Susan said. “They’ll open up a can of soup, which is high in salt, or they just don’t eat properly. They’ll have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”

In addition to being nutritious, she aims for the meals to be simple and relatively quick to prepare.

Susan and Paul Doyle are the owners of Oasis Senior Advisors CT-NY. They assist people who are going through the process of finding housing and care for a senior family member. The service is free, with the Doyles receiving compensation from assisted living and memory care facilities when their clients are placed. They launched their business, which is part of a national franchise, in 2016 in Fairfield County and later expanded to Westchester County.

Before becoming an adviser to seniors and their families, Paul made sports documentaries for a living. Susan went from working for Citibank to being a stay-at-home mom for more than 20 years to becoming a preschool teacher.

Several years ago, “we were our clients,” Paul said. He had power of attorney when his father was sick with cancer. A few months after his father died, his mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

“There was no go-to,” Susan said. “This is not cookie cutter. Everybody has a very unique situation, and they need guidance.”

Becoming ‘a community’

“The Downsized Gourmet” started as a program that the Doyles brought to senior centers. Chefs who worked at assisted living facilities would give in-person presentations about cooking. Last year, the program went virtual, with Susan serving as the chef.

One regular viewer of the show, Trumbull resident Alice Targowski, said she has cooked all her life, but “there’s always a tip or a trick or some new little twist on things” to learn.

“Now that I’m older, one of the best things is learning how to use things in a different way so that a lot of food doesn’t get wasted because it’s hard to downsize cooking. It really is,” said Targowski, who is 74 and retired. “It’s hard to go from cooking for six or seven people to two and then to one. So it’s been very helpful, and then there’s the social aspect of it also during COVID. … You got to see other people online and connect in that way.”

With Susan as the host, “it’s almost like you’re cooking with your daughter,” Targowski said.

“(It’s) like you’re sitting on the stool on the other side of the counter while she’s cooking and just chatting about different things and different things to try and what to do with the leftovers, if there are any,” Targowski said.

Paul said the show’s attendees have “become a community.” He recalled viewers’ excitement after he and his wife moved to a new house at the end of last year.

“We took the holiday off and we came back in January in the new house, and as soon as we went live, everybody’s like, ‘Show us your kitchen, show us your kitchen,’” Paul said. “So it’s just like having friends over … and they really cared about it and they were looking forward to it.”

One time, a viewer asked where to get a certain ingredient for a recipe, and another viewer jumped in and told the person which aisle he could find it in at a local grocery store. Another time, Susan was wrapping up an episode of the show when two viewers recognized each other and started chatting.

“I’m about to hit ‘Leave Meeting’ and end it — and I can’t do that because they’re having a conversation between friends,” Paul said.

By the book, or not

The Doyles have collected all the recipes Susan has used on their online show as well as recipes from chefs at assisted living facilities to make a “Downsized Gourmet” cookbook.

“A lot of them are just family secrets,” Susan said about her recipes. “My daughter … she goes … ‘Great-grandma must be rolling in her grave right now that you gave up her recipe (for) meatballs.’”

But recipes, whether from a website or grandma, are only guides, Susan said. Part of her program was showing seniors how you can improvise in the kitchen.

Proceeds from sales of the cookbook, which includes a total of about 65 recipes, will go to the Alzheimer’s Association, whose Walk to End Alzheimer’s for the Fairfield County area is scheduled for Sunday, at Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk. More information is available at act.alz.org/fairfieldcounty.

brianna.gurciullo@hearstmediact.com