It always strikes me a little bit odd when someone asks me what I do and their eyes light up as soon as I mention “I’m a Chef”. But my answer to the question that immediately follows causes a dramatic change in reaction. I am a Chef who cooks in a… hospital. As soon as they hear those words, their lights dim and the hospital food jokes begin. Well, this Chef is on a mission to revolutionize the perception of Healthcare Foodservice!
I have worked in Healthcare Foodservice for over 22 years and have spent those 22 years trying to transform the bad image of hospital food. But first we must ask ourselves “Does hospital food deserve such a bad rap?” Sadly to say, the answer is YES for the most part. However, things are changing, mainly on the patient front as research indicates that over 30% of hospitals nationwide have implemented some form of hotel-style Room Service. Based on that figure, I would say we still have a long way to go.
What ails the Healthcare Foodservice business? Well, for many years Healthcare Foodservice lost its way. We lost sight of the fact that we should be cooking nutritious food that our customers really would want to consume. Instead, we gave them something I like to call “from freezer to oven” (fryer) cooking or even worse, cook chill. Chefs or skilled cooks weren’t needed, because these methods required little skill in producing. Yes these methods contained costs, but let’s face it, the food was awful and customer satisfaction was dismal. I think the feeling was that food was a side line in the patient’s healthcare. Or putting it another way, lets shovel it out as cheapest as we can.
Today’s patients and cafeteria customers are a different breed. Years of being exposed to the likes of the food channel, food magazines and greater traveling opportunities has given them a more sophisticated food palate. As a Chef I welcome this new breed of health-conscious consumers because now I can do what I am skilled at: cooking real food from scratch. Hospital food of the past will be condemned to the dust bin of history as Chefs take up their knives and produce menus and food that people will want to consume.
This is the mission: to bring real food, cooked from scratch, back to healthcare. To achieve this mission we must understand that the core of any successful healthcare foodservice operation is its production unit. Accordingly, it is vital to invest, develop and train the production unit. Once this is accomplished, then everything else will fall into place. Additionally, food is the central most important element of a foodservice operation. Mess this up and we can all pack up and go home. We need to position our minds to think that we are running a restaurant rather than a cafeteria. I had a saying when I was the Executive Chef at UCLA Medical Center; “Restaurant Food at Cafeteria Prices”. That operation went from generating 2.4 million dollars in retail revenue to 7 million dollars. Why were we successful? It was because we invested in our production team.
I would like to end by saying, the next time someone asks me what I do for a living, I am going to reply, “I am a Chef in Healthcare” and their eyes will light up.
Don’t miss Chef Mark Dyball at our upcoming User’s Conference at Providence Portland Medical Center on May 11!