ST. LOUIS - Hospital food isn’t what most people usually consider gourmet. However, chefs across the country are increasingly opting for hospital kitchens over gourmet restaurants. The benefactors of this trend: patients, hospital co-workers and visitors.
Certified Executive Chef Donald Grace came to Mercy Hospital St. Louis after more than 20 years in food service, with the majority of his time spent at country clubs. He was trained and mentored at nearby Westwood Country Club by Chef John Bogacki, a golden toque chef - one of the top 100 chefs in the world. While on a junior culinary team winning four silver medals in two years, Chef Don also trained with Master Chef Aidan Murphy at Old Warson Country Club.
“I started as a dishwasher at my grandmother’s restaurant in Oklahoma. At 14, I took an interest in food and watching her cook,” Chef Don said. “I really got my training at Westwood Country Club and learned how to make everything from scratch. And, I worked on some amazing weddings and special events.”
While there, Chef Don completed his associate degree in Culinary Arts at Forest Park Community College and a three-year chef apprenticeship program. He worked his way up to sous chef and executive sous chef. After a move to Nebraska, he decided he wanted to return to St. Louis but didn’t think of working in a hospital at first.
“When I heard about the opening through a chef friend, I had to think hard before coming for the interview,” Chef Don recalled. “I didn’t want my specialty training to be wasted.”
Chef Don’s training is far from wasted. He has revamped the patient menu at Mercy Hospital St. Louis with items that sound more like dishes from the fancy restaurant down the street than hospital food. Recent entrée offerings include Seared Pork Loin Medallions with Pomegranate Sauce, Baked White Fish with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce, Gourmet Grilled Cheese and Open-Faced Garden Melt – just to name a few. In addition, everything is made from scratch, including sauces, salad dressings and even pizza dough. The menu changes seasonally with new offerings.
“We changed the way food is prepared which makes for a better and healthier product,” Chef Don explained.
Food used to be prepped and put on warming trays until it was needed. Now, patients call room service, place an order and the food is made on demand then delivered promptly.
“It’s been a total team effort and we’ve really seen an improvement in patient satisfaction,” Chef Don said. “I hear patients raving about the food.”
Chef Don credits everyone with the improved patient satisfaction. “If it wasn’t for the team we've built – from leadership to diet clerks, to cooks and servers – this would not be possible.”