by Mercy's Bethany Pope
CENTRAL, U.S. – Celebrity chefs Anthony Bourdain, Rocco DiSpirito and Cat Cora, along with Mercy’s Gerard “Jerry” Campione, are all graduates of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., recognized as one of the best culinary schools in the country.
In what is becoming more common across the country, chefs like Campione are opting for hospital kitchens over gourmet restaurants. The benefactors of this trend: patients, hospital co-workers and visitors.
“Hospital food gets a bad rap,” said Campione, Mercy’s executive chef and director of health and wellness. “People think of it as being bland, mushy and just plain nasty.”
But that stigma is changing as more professionals from the restaurant industry make the move to hospitals. Mercy’s hospitals across four states have food service professionals from a variety of backgrounds, and many have transitioned from well-known restaurants, private clubs and hotels.
“I have had a passion for food since I was 16, have worked alongside some amazing chefs and even owned my own restaurant,” said Charles Spencer, director of guest services at Mercy Hospital Ardmore in Oklahoma. “While I never imagined I would end up working in a hospital, I would say that I have learned more in my six years with Mercy than I did in over 20 years in restaurants.”
According to Spencer, food in health care is constantly evolving. “The diversity in customer groups, variety in cultural cuisine and the ever present group of both internal and external customers makes health care a very challenging avenue for a culinarian.”
“I was climbing my way up in the ‘high-end’ arena and had the same thought as most people about hospital food,” said Brad Bulot, executive chef at Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas in Rogers. “It wasn’t until I began networking with other chefs who worked in health care that I began to see a change in attitude toward food services in this industry.”
Spencer, Bulot, Campione and others are using their culinary skills to make good food healthy, not only for patients but Mercy’s co-workers and visitors.
“We have always been interested in well-balanced food for patients, but we neglected to do the same for those visiting our cafeteria,” Campione said.
Mercy’s new menu items sound more like dishes from the fancy restaurant down the street than the hospital cafeteria. Items such as roasted chicken breast with sautéed apples and walnuts, spinach crusted cod, paella, roasted Cajun salmon and chicken tandoori are just a few items rolling out in cafeterias across Mercy. They are not only more flavorful but contain more healthy ingredients such as fish with omega-3 fatty acids, legumes and beans in place of white potatoes, whole grains, seasonal fresh and frozen vegetables in place of canned products.
“These dishes offer the flavor I have been trained to create in a way that is healthier for our visitors and co-workers,” said Campione. “If it doesn’t taste good, people won’t order it again.”