Brian Panennbaker
Sara Hinson

Sara Hinson

Keeping Residents Nourished & Happy: Cumberland Village Food Guru, Chef Brian Pannenbacker

Whether it’s savory prime rib or pork tenderloin on the menu, Cumberland Village is known for its mouthwatering food. Our restaurant-like dining room brings residents together to socialize over a meal, and varied dishes keep appetites satisfied. Those who live here have come to expect such excellence. But have you ever stopped to think who’s behind it all? 

Meet Brian Pannenbacker, otherwise known as Chef Brian, Cumberland Village’s very own executive chef. This is a man who doesn’t rest on his laurels. He says he’s passionate about trying new recipes and exposing residents to new foods. “The best part about working at Cumberland has been the ability to work with the residents in giving them the meal choices they like, while being creative and offering specials that they normally wouldn’t have or have never tried before,” he relates. 

Since coming to Cumberland Village seven years ago, Pannenbacker has implemented a cook-to-order dining experience that allows residents to order from a restaurant-like menu. He also offers daily and weekly food specials, ranging from corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day to jambalaya for Mardi Gras. 

When asked about his favorite experiences, he shares a long list: “Many of the highlights of working at Cumberland involve a lot of the special events, such as our Memorial Day Picnics, our ‘Tour of Europe,’ ‘Pig-Pickins,’ Oyster Roasts, Chili Challenges, and so many more fun things we do to keep the residents fed and happy.”

Pannenbacker brings a long history with cooking to his role here. He says he knew from a young age that he wanted to be a chef. In high school, he watched cooking shows and began experimenting with foods around the house. At age 15, he took a job as a restaurant dishwasher and worked his way up. He went on to earn a degree in Culinary Arts and Food Service Management from Johnson & Whales, and worked at numerous college campuses in both North and South Carolina. 

So, how did he get here? “I ended up at Cumberland because I grew tired of college life and wanted to try something new,” he says. 

Chef prepares hotpot in the stew pan in the kitchen

In addition to his responsibilities as executive chef, Pannenbacker is also the director of Cumberland Village’s Dietary Department. This means he oversees hiring, food budgets, inventory, and catering. One of his most crucial duties is helping residents understand the importance of making good food choices.    

“Since we are an independent living community, we strive for residents to be in charge of their own diets. But we do have residents with certain restricted diets. We try to work with them by helping them understand our menu options and what we can reasonably provide, and we offer suggestions like healthy heart options for those with specific health or diet concerns,” he explains. 

Dining at Cumberland Village

Although the menu at Cumberland Village changes regularly, favorite dishes include stuffed peppers, seafood salad croissants, and grilled Reuben sandwiches. There is always a fresh soup of the day and a special side dish, such as black-eyed peas or balsamic-glazed Brussels sprouts.

But by far Pannenbacker’s favorite dish to make is shrimp and grits. “There are many different versions, so I am always trying them at outside restaurants and then tweaking my own recipe,” he admits. This regional classic really brings home Chef Brian’s mission: to make every meal a happy, nourishing occasion.