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Beyond Jello And Toast: Hospital Chefs Face Off In Contest

Yuck. (A 2007 photo from a Canadian hospital)

What will they compete on, who makes the reddest Jello? The toughest toast? Who best mixes apple juice concentrate with water?

That was my admittedly snarky reaction when I got word that later this month, 13 of the Boston area’s top hospital chefs would be competing in a culinary contest that organizers believe is unique in the nation.

Even the press release for the event had to acknowledge an image problem for hospital food:

When asked what to say to those who think hospital food is “gross,” Chef James Boyd, Executive Chef at Children’s Hospital Boston, said “They haven’t been to a hospital lately! From old school ‘hospital food’ as they call it, it’s changed so much. There are more healthy items out there and we’re doing more sauté items to order now.”

Boyd and his team are one of 13 hospital and healthcare teams battling it out in the “Best Chef of the Healthcare Industry” competition to help celebrate the Massachusetts Health Council annual award gala on October 27th at the Boston Seaport Hotel.

It may surprise many people to learn that hospital chefs are trained at some of the best culinary institutes around the world. The competition is an opportunity for them to change the perception that many people have about hospital food and to shine a spotlight on the healthy ingredients they use to create palate-pleasing menus for their patients.

I can’t recall a single palate-pleasing thing from my time in the hospital several years ago — readers, has anyone had a delicious hospital meal lately? — but I do buy the premise that hospital chefs can help lead the way on healthier cooking. They often have little choice about, say, keeping sodium or sugar low.

‘It’s very counterintuitive for hospital and health care food to be featured as something special and wonderful.’

And improved hospital food fits perfectly into the trend that Rachel noted recently here in her post on single-bed hospital rooms, that patients are being rebranded as consumers.

So, for example, Chef Manar Alsebai, the production manager of patient food at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, says that his kitchens offer food room-service style: Patients have a menu and can order whatever they want from it between 7 in the morning and 8 at night. The food should arrive within 45 minutes. “I’m not saying it’s perfect,” he said. “It’s a challenge sometimes, because of the elevator and other challenges, but I still think it’s good compared to what used to be done.”

Chef Brian Ray, food and nutrition operations manager at The Lahey Clinic, compared a patient’s tray today to what it would have been like ten years ago. Continue reading