During her seven-year career at Morrison Healthcare, Andrea Greer has spent most of it on the road. She is a regional executive chef, but in reality, she’s a fixer – a super chef who swoops in to improve a hospital kitchen until a new chef is hired.
Based in Tulsa, Okla., Andrea is almost always on the move, traveling to hospitals throughout the U.S. In the past few years, she’s worked with hospitals from Boston, Chicago and Hawaii, as well as those throughout the Midwest and Southeast to improve their performance.
“Andrea has grit, determination and great leadership skills,” says Corporate Executive Chef Justin Newgaard, one of her supervisors. “She’s worked in several difficult environments and made a big difference. For example, she helped turn around several hospitals in Arkansas that experienced some problems before she arrived, but they are currently among our top performers.”
Right from the start, Andrea’s no-nonsense approach caught the eye of Terri Schnurr, now one of our system directors. After graduating from culinary school, Andrea was hired as a cook at Norton Suburban Hospital in Louisville, Ky. Terri convinced Andrea to strongly consider a management position with Morrison Healthcare. Soon after, she took a job as a sous chef at Kansas Spine & Specialty Hospital in Wichita.
After working there for six months, she became a traveling sous chef – working at several hospitals in Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and elsewhere. It turned out to be a niche where she could provide significant value to the hospitals and its patients.
“The job isn’t for everyone, but I love it,” Andrea says. “I can come into a kitchen, dig in to find the problem and fix the issue. That way, when the permanent chef takes over, I’m handing them a well-run kitchen.”
A Country Cook
Andrea has always felt comfortable around food and kitchens. Growing up on a family farm, she worked from a young age. She and her grandmother peeled green beans on the porch and Andrea was often in the kitchen learning about food from her mother and grandmother.
In addition, her grandmother also managed the kitchen at The Z, a restaurant in Sweet Springs, Mo. While she supervised the kitchen cooked and Andrea’s mother did the cooking, Andrea was washing dishes at age 14.
“I learned a lot about food, cooking and running a kitchen at an early age,” she says. “And I learned from some of the best.”
While she doesn’t have a “go-to” recipe, in her own time, Andrea likes to smoke meat, poultry and fish over a wood fire. To hone her cooking skills, she even took a side job as a butcher on weekends a few years back, which gave her more knowledge about different cuts of meat and how best to cook them.
“I love wood-fired, smoked cooking – it’s a passion. Creating new flavors and really experimenting with trout and venison is a fun past time for me.”
The Key – Communicating with Staff
When a hospital’s food operations need help, Andrea gets the call. The key to turning around a low-performing kitchen is winning over the staff and restoring morale. At St. Anthony’s Hospital in Chicago, she demonstrated to the staff she’s willing to roll up her sleeves and get dirty in the kitchen. She was there at 5 a.m. to open the kitchen and stayed until 7 p.m. to clean up.
“Success comes from forming solid working relationships with all of the kitchen associates,” she says. “Every chef needs help to run their department. I work to do that by establishing trust and keeping communications open at all times.”
Maybe most important, she focuses on how their work helps patients. “I talk a lot about having a purpose. We’re here to take care of these patients and the only thing we can control is the food. If that’s my grandad in that room, I want to make sure he gets the best food we can deliver.”
To that end, Andrea often visits patients in their rooms and speaks about their food quality and preferences. She understands that each meal can have an impact on every patient, especially those struggling with their hospital stay.
She recalls speaking recently with an older woman who didn’t like her food. After a visit and a 45-minute conversation, she learned the woman had worked in a diner in a small country town – similar to Andrea’s own background.
“She told me all she wanted to eat, for every meal, was an open-face, roast beef sandwich,” said Andrea. “I said, ‘I can make that happen’, and she had her sandwich every day.
Andrea’s dedication to quality patient care, improving staff morale and fine-tuning a kitchen’s operations is making a difference. “Every account she helps is in a better place than when she arrived,” Newgaard says. “The team on site doesn’t want her to leave, a true sign for chef that the job she is doing is highly valuable and rewarding.