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The Heroes Behind the Food -- Celebrating Chef Appreciation Week

The Heroes Behind the Food — Celebrating Chef Appreciation Week

By Cary Neff, Vice President, Culinary for Morrison Healthcare

Chef Appreciation Week is different this year. Never before have our chefs faced so many unique challenges and demonstrated their ability to help patients, medical staff, and their communities through the food they prepare and serve.

Set for Sept. 13-19, our theme this year is “The Heroes Behind the Food.” It’s a tribute to our women and men in foodservice who have quickly adapted to the needs of the COVID-19 crisis.

We are part of a special community – the healthcare profession’s “essential workers.” Hundreds of chefs have worked day and night in hospitals across the nation, preparing and delivering food to these patients and the medical teams working around the clock. I’m incredibly proud of them and grateful for their extraordinary dedication.

There are several stories during the COVID-19 crisis of their heroic work. Here are just two:

Executive Chef Leopold Haas   

Executive Chef Leopold Haas works at John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital, a 145-bed community hospital in southern California’s Coachella Valley. Chef Haas was preparing for a seasonal surge in new patients this spring tied to the famous Coachella Valley Music Festival, but those plans were abruptly disrupted when the coronavirus caused a massive shift in hospital patients.

After initially reducing its staff and canceling all elective surgeries, the hospital quickly reversed course when a large group of elderly patients from a senior care facility in San Bernardino were infected with the COVID-19 virus and transported to the hospital. A field hospital was also erected adjacent to JFK Memorial by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers when the community hospital became overwhelmed.

As the patients began arriving at the field hospital at the county fairgrounds in Indio, Chef Haas was asked to begin catering meals for them the next morning. To ensure he was prepared, he visited the field hospital during the evening of the patients’ arrival – and found that none of them had eaten on that day.

Chef Haas asked if he could feed them that evening. He took charge, finding out the dietary needs of each patient. Then he rushed back to the hospital to approve the meals – all medically approved – as well as some pizzas for the medical staff. Meals were served for the patients and military medical staff for the next five days.

Chef Haas understood he needed to help these patients quickly to maintain their health. “I arrived at the military hospital and spoke to the medical doctor in charge,” he recalls. “I found out each patient’s dietary needs and devised a plan to start feeding patients immediately. Moments like this have taught me that taking the initiative in tough times is important to show that we care.”

Sous Chef Joshua Kim

Then there is Chef Joshua Kim, our sous chef at Atrium Health in Pineville, N.C. After a full day’s work, Chef Kim loaded his car with packaged food from Morrison and drove to a local restaurant to pick up bread and other baked goods for Dove’s Nest, a local women’s shelter.

In addition, he worked with a local church that picks up the food at the hospital and distributes it for a local nonprofit organization that feeds low-income people. Chef Kim served “to-go” food items in the hospital café beginning in mid-March to doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel. With the leftover food, he began providing 30-40 loaves of bread and two-three dozen bagels, muffins, Danish rolls and other baked goods each week to Thrift United Methodist Church in North Charlotte.

“I’m told the families look forward every week to receiving their bread, mostly because it’s a primary source of nourishment,” he says.

The Rev. Charles DiRico said the donations organized by Chef Kim enabled him to increase the number of people helped from 75 to 100 each week while also doubling the amount of food they provide. The church already provides one hot meal to the group, but the donation of bread and baked goods enables each family to take a meal home after eating at the church. Additionally, the donated food has helped keep the onsite food pantry stocked with the ability to serve about two weeks’ worth of groceries to 10 families per week.

We are Here to Nourish, Comfort and Heal

There was a Dunkin’ Donuts television ad in the 1980s depicting a baker waking in the morning’s wee hours and shouting, “it’s time to make the doughnuts!”

I remember the ad because it captures the eagerness, importance, demand and anticipation of our work. No matter how early we need to arrive, the long hours, holidays spent away from home – the smell, heat and rapid pace of professional kitchens provides a unique challenge and reward like no other profession.

Our canvas and our tools are the vibrant colors and tantalizing flavors of food. We are charged to use “The Power of Food” in the most creative and satisfying ways in service to others. It can nourish, comfort, strengthen, celebrate, heal and help build trust by expressing the power of diversity and inclusion through rich ethnic and regional foods.

When I interview applicants for a chef position, the first question I ask is, “Why Healthcare, Why Morrison?” After all, these applicants have had successful careers in restaurants, hotels or country clubs. Every successful hire has the same answer: Their deep passion for food and personal desire to use foods to help heal.

I often challenge team members to “Make Raving Fans” out of the people we serve by demonstrating that extra 1% difference with each task every day. During the past few months, I’ve been inundated with “shoutouts” for the chefs who have made Raving Fans by going above and beyond during this unprecedented time. As Chef Haas and Chef Kim have shown, it’s the extra 1% that makes a difference and lives in the memories of others for a long time.

These are special people in a unique time. Join me in making a special effort this week to recognize our food heroes, expressing my sincere appreciation for our culinary talent and foodservice workers.

Follow us along on Social Media as we celebrate Chef Appreciation Week and our #HeroesBehindTheFood.

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