It might not seem an unusual dining experience to order your meal from a menu, have it cooked to order and then have the executive chef come around to see how everything was. However, now consider the fact that you’re a patient at Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton.
Likewise, if you’re an employee or visitor of the hospital, you might be surprised to discover that the tiny cafeteria offers fresh and healthy choices ranging from a salad bar, to grab-and-go items, to daily specials such as salmon burgers or a Mexican-themed buffet.
Getting people to think of hospital food as actually good is admittedly a challenge of perception.
“For too many years we set an expectation of bland, poorly tasting hospital food and then we met people’s expectations,” said Ron Yukelson, Twin Cities’ associate administrator for business development. “But there’s really been an evolution in the industry, and we’re very serious about the quality of our food here.”
Patient meals and cafeteria service are just two of the very diverse aspects of Twin Cities’ Food and Nutrition Services (which are contracted out to Morrison Healthcare, a national company specializing in serving hospitals and health-care systems). Other duties include catering special events for outside groups at the hospital, as well as orchestrating celebration meals for new moms and their significant others.
When it comes to the patients of the 120-bed facility, “our catering associates are seeing each of them about six times a day,” explained Mary Shaloub, director of food and nutrition services. The associates explain the day’s menus, take down the patients’ requests for each meal, deliver the cooked-to-order meals and retrieve the service trays.
Patients’ menus offer a choice between two hot entrees such as rotisserie chicken or shrimp scampi, plus always-available items that include soup-of-the day, hamburgers and grilled chicken with salad. Shaloub noted that everything possible is cooked from scratch, and fresh produce is delivered by The Berry Man, a local wholesale distributor.
That approach is used throughout the hospital’s food programs — from patients, to the cafeteria, to catering.
“We’re trying to beat people’s perceptions by putting real food out to them, and my line cooks really care and really stand by their food,” said Executive Chef Adam White, who recently edged out two other talented chefs in a cooking competition benefiting Templeton’s Wellness Kitchen. He’s been with Twin Cities for two-and-a-half years, and previously worked in the Portland, Ore., health-care industry.
Serving hospital patients has a unique set of challenges. Each meal must meet the individual’s specific medical needs and dietary preferences: gluten-free, low sodium, diabetic concerns, etc.
“We have patients with no restrictions that can have everything, and at the other end of the spectrum we have cardiac patients on a puréed diet or even patients that can only have clear liquids,” noted White.
“It’s up to us to work out a solution for each person, then get feedback from them,” he said, and he’s garbed in full chef whites when he makes his rounds. “We also need to help explain the experience of what they’re going through. Maybe their taste has been affected by medication, or they’ve never been put on a restricted diet before, or they’re just plain frustrated by the situation.”
White’s culinary background spans more than 20 years of experience “from pizza joints to fine dining.” However, working in the health-care industry over the last several years has proven the most rewarding.
“At some point, you have to decide if you really want to be a ‘restaurateur’ or go in another direction,” he said. “I found I’d started losing the purpose of what I was doing, so I took a look at health care and I absolutely love it. There’s a real sense of satisfaction in helping to make people’s lives better.”
TWIN CITIES COMMUNITY HOSPITAL
1100 Las Tablas Road, Templeton 434-3500 http://twincitieshospital.com
Cafeteria hours: Breakfast Monday-Friday 7-9:30 a.m., lunch daily 11 a.m.-2 p.m., dinner daily 4:30-6:30 p.m., grill daily 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
The scene: The cafeteria itself is rather tiny, but there is outdoor seating available as well.
The cuisine: Choose what you what from the buffet, order something from the grill or get a grab-and-go items such as a sandwich or pasta salad; everything cooked fresh in-house.
Expect to spend: Most meals around $5.