After signing up as a teenager for a half-day cooking course at Voorhees High in New Jersey, Greg Cordova cooked some of his first meals for his school’s faculty members. He learned how to make chopped steak, lobster Newberg and trout almandine. He liked it so much that at age 15, he got his first job as a cook at The Wayfair, a diner outside of Washington, NJ. “I enjoyed the fast pace of a kitchen, the challenge of cooking so many meals, the sweat and the hard work.”
Now, at age 58, Greg is a corporate executive chef at Morrison Healthcare. The thrill of cooking is still there – “it’s good to see people smile when they taste your food” – but he’s also developed a well-rounded set of skills that makes him valuable in a variety of ways.
Over the past three decades, he’s owned a bakery and delicatessen, been a restaurant chef and worked as a chef for Hilton Hotels for 15 years. He joined Morrison Community Living, another Compass Group company, as a chef in 2009 and after a five-year stint there came to Morrison Healthcare as a corporate executive chef.
His skills inside the kitchen are well recognized – but his skills outside the kitchen help set him apart. He’s a teacher to other chefs, makes presentations as part of a sales pitch and is a leader in the Stop Food Waste movement.
Kickoff for Teaching Kitchens
As Morrison began to expand its efforts to educate more people about The Power of Food, Greg was chosen to help launch the company’s first Teaching Kitchen in 2016. Working with Tara Snow, a project manager at Compass Group, the two developed the first Teaching Kitchens presentation for a small group consisting of caregivers at Staten Island University Hospital in New York. The presentation would become the template that Morrison now uses across the country.
“We decided to show the staff how to make a Shaker salad in Mason jars that they could prepare at home and bring to work,” Greg recalls. “We were able to show people how to eat healthy and discuss how to improve their nutrition while leading a busy lifestyle.”
Showing Hospitals Healthy Food Works
Greg also uses his knowledge about food and nutrition to help hospital administrators’ show how Morrison connects with their own wellness programs. He makes between five and 10 presentations annually, largely as part of sales presentation to hospitals considering Morrison as their food service provider.
He readily admits this skill didn’t come as naturally as cooking. Back in 2015, the company asked him to be part of a sales presentation at Holy Redeemer Hospital outside of Philadelphia – the first time he would be included in a pitch to a potential new client.
He rehearsed a scripted presentation for a full day, but at the last minute, ditched the script and spoke from the heart. Instead, he spoke about Morrison’s ability to provide the hospital with talented chefs that would change the image of their hospital’s food and improve patients’ health.
“I let them know we don’t hire chefs unless they can make a difference. We’re looking for chefs that worked in restaurant and country clubs to use their experience and cook food from scratch and change our industry.”
To demonstrate the unique food Morrison chefs make, he’ll often bring an orange muffin made with chickpeas and eggs whites or a black bean muffin to a presentation. “When they can see and taste the food, people understand how we can help their patients and guests.” When Chef Greg can’t personally attend a presentation, a video of him speaking is often shown to hospital administrators.
Greg’s teaching experience is helping new corporate executive chefs understand how to manage their working relationships with others to get the maximum performance out of each kitchen.
He’s been a featured speaker at Morrison’s annual conference for corporate executive chefs on the Power of Food. And when a new corporate executive chef is hired, they accompany Chef Greg on a tour of various hospitals. One of his main lessons is to show them the importance of connecting with their own staffs and supervisors to succeed.
“All of our chefs are skilled at cooking, presenting and delivering healthy, nutritious food,” he says. “But to be successful, a chef also needs to build trust and strong working relationships with directors and employees. As someone in a corporate support role, having those relationships will help everyone understand our vision.”
During tours, Greg helps the corporate executive chefs understand what it takes to be successful. He teaches them to build solid working relationships by meeting individually with the chef, director, purchasing manager and others on the management team, as well as the line employees. “Understanding their workload, challenges and what makes them successful helps us coach, support and teach them in a way that will improve our organization.”
Providing recommendations and guidance in a favorable way and following up after an initial visit will build a lasting relationship. “If people are doing a great job, you need to let them know. If they aren’t the chef needs to work with them to improve and get better.”
Leading the Zero Food Waste Movement
Earlier this year, Chef Greg worked closely with Jersey Shore University Medical Center in New Jersey to raise awareness of food waste by holding the first Zero Waste Dinner. His five-course, Zero Waste meal combined seasonal, sustainable food with no waste in food preparation for approximately 35 hospital board members and administrators.
Here’s a great example: Baked avocados were served using the vegetable’s skin as a serving dish. The flesh of the avocado was served as part of the main course and the core of the vegetable was used as a garnish – so none of the vegetable was thrown out.
“Our objective was to build a menu that used each part of every vegetable while still creating a meal with great flavors and presentation,” said Chef Greg. “We were able to cook and serve a healthy meal using seasonal and sustainable food with virtually no food waste.”
As the main course, he cooked chunks of local Bernegat scallops from the New Jersey shore, typically thrown out as part of the shucking process, as well as broken or misshapen scallops.
Chef Greg said the dinner raised awareness even among the culinary staff about the food that is quickly thrown out. To complete the meal’s Zero Waste theme, platters, plates and other dinnerware from a second hand store. After the meal, the dinnerware was donated to a local women’s shelter.
When he’s not on the job, the chef’s passion for good food doesn’t stop. In his backyard garden, he grows eggplant, onion, basil and tomatoes and uses on the fresh vegetables on grilled hamburger for other meals.
“As a chef, it’s hard to say I have a favorite recipe,” he says.” “No matter what the meal, I get the freshest ingredients I can find and build a meal around those ingredients.”
He’s come a long way from chopped steak at the Wayfair – and we’re all better off for it.