By Awo Amenumey, Traveling Sous Chef, Morrison Healthcare
Not long ago, I sat in my hotel room in DuBois, Pennsylvania, waiting for the command center at Penn Highlands Healthcare to determine whether to let me back in the building. To get there, I had a layover in New York City, so hospital officials weren’t certain it was safe for me to enter. Eventually, even though I was not infected with the COVID-19 virus, I was sent home to Charlotte to await my next assignment.
But that experience gave me time to reflect. I have an unusual job – made even more unusual by the pandemic. As a traveling sous chef, I hop on planes and provide food service to various hospitals, working at each one for several days.
My job has several components: When our company takes over foodservice at a hospital, I’m there to ensure the opening days go well. I provide recipe training for the kitchen staff, as well as safety and sanitation standards to meet compliance regulations. Because of COVID-19, the latter duty has become even more critical; we are sanitizing the kitchen and changing gloves more frequently to ensure everyone is safe.
I’ve worked at approximately 20 hospitals, including some of the world’s best – Cleveland Clinic, Detroit Receiving Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Michigan and The University of Virginia Health System.
I’ll never forget my very first assignment at Atrium Health Union in Monroe, NC. I observed how each corporate chef had a unique way of running the kitchen and coaching their teams. The Patient Service team worked to ensure each patient got the right food for their diets. The Retail and Marketing team ensured the right signage and marketing was put up for the right menu. It was like watching a conductor orchestrate a show and I was in the middle, watching it all come together. The best part was that after a long day of hard work, Senior Corporate Chef Brian Salter had everyone go to the hotel lobby for a family-style dinner emphasizing the importance of family to this organization.
But the most important part of my job is preparing meals for patients. They must be healthy and nutritious, be served at the proper temperature, be presented correctly and have consistent quality. Initially, there was a learning curve. I had to learn how to prepare food to meet the patient diet instructions for each hospital, which sometimes differ while also making sure the food had the right consistency and texture.
I’ve only worked at Morrison for one year, but I already have plenty of good memories. The most memorable experience was empowering the team at Northwest Medical Center in Bentonville, Ark., to take ownership of the kitchen. This hard-working group lacked direction after the previous leadership team had moved on. With help from Corporate Chef Justin Newgaard, I provided them information and tools from our playbooks, enabling them to perform their day-to-day activities accurately and successfully. Months after I left, Chef Newgaard assured me they were on track and doing well.
A year ago, I never envisioned the happiness I feel today. During these unsettling times, I get to work on the front lines of foodservice, providing nourishment to hundreds of patients each day in need of healthy food. I’m able to directly impact their well-being through the Power of Food.
As the pandemic has progressed, we’ve increased our efforts to meet the nutrition needs of medical personnel who are saving lives. We are preparing hot, nutritious take-home meals through “Pop-up” markets at many hospitals, so the nurses, doctors and their families don’t need to cook after working long hours.
They can take home a hot pot roast or chicken with mashed potatoes and carrots, macaroni and cheese and even take-home pizzas. We also provide them canned goods, milk and other grocery items, so they don’t have to stop at the grocery store.
I’m thankful for many things, and I couldn’t be prouder of my co-workers for finding creative and endless ways of supporting their communities and being a light in someone’s life in these times that seem dark.
Long story short: I know this is where I’m meant to be and what I’m meant to do: meeting the nutrition needs of people by providing them with healthy, delicious food. After my long road trips, it feels so good to return home and reflect on my most recent assignment and realize I’ve had an impact on someone’s life. It feels so good to know I have a job worth doing that is helping others.