Posted by: Duke Raleigh Hospital | August 23, 2013

The Healing Power of Food

Once derided, hospital food has gotten tasty. But most importantly, it’s part of a patient’s get-well plan.

by Bruce Reinecke, CEC, AAC, Executive Chef/Manager ARAMARK Healthcare Services Duke Raleigh Hospital

That second set of initials you see behind my name is new. I was recently inducted into the American Academy of Chefs (AAC), the honorary society for the American Culinary Federation. I’m also a Certified Executive Chef (CEC) within the American Culinary Federation, the only American organization that can certify a culinary professional. Cooks, bakers, sous chefs, pastry chefs, chefs de cuisine, executive chefs and master chefs are all members.

I’m proud to have reached this important career milestone, but what really keeps me motivated is preparing meals that are an important part of patients’ wellness plans. I’ve wanted to be a chef since I was five years old and got my first Easy Bake oven. But now that I’m working in a hospital, I’m living my dream and part of the greater good. My team and I prepare food designed to get and keep people healthy.

Rick Gannotta, President, with Chef Bruce Reinecke

Rick Gannotta, President, with Chef Bruce Reinecke

Since I’ve been at Duke Raleigh for a little over a year, nutrition has been at the forefront of everything I’ve done. In previous jobs – in country clubs and at hotels – it was all about taste and presentation. Those things are still vital to me, but the nutrition factor is now of primary importance. My boss, Neal Seigler, who is the director of nutritional services at Duke Raleigh, is a great mentor and guiding force. Our team, including five dieticians, feels privileged to do our part to help patients build up their strength and get back to life.

I like the challenge of making good food that’s also good for patients. I have made gorgeous, pulled caramel domed baskets and serve them over Bananas Foster, and I wouldn’t cut a single corner. I used butter, heavy cream, sugar – all those things dear to some of the great European chefs I trained with. Now, I might make a blueberry crumb cake as a dessert. I want it to look and taste delicious, but it’s got to be part of an overall wellness plan.

When patients are in the hospital, there’s usually not much they can control. They’re told what to do and when to do it. (Of course, it’s all for their own good.) Dietary choices are one area where they can have a little of themselves back. They get to decide – from the appropriate menu they’re given – what to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

We have about 15 different menus that are designed for different purposes – heart-healthy, low sodium, prep for surgery (some of our meals have to be pureed) and more. All are designed to bring nourishment, help people feel better and help them get home quickly.  We often feed more than 700 people each day. I want each one to have a good experience.

We couldn’t do our jobs without our team of hosts and hostesses. And they’re some of the best I’ve ever worked with. They cart the meals and take them to patients, come back and pick up the trays and – very importantly – they share feedback from patients. We’ve heard great things about our Salisbury steak with mushroom gravy, country-style beef pot roast and thick-cut French toast. Sometimes our hosts and hostesses are the ones who have to say, “I know you want a cheeseburger, but it’s not on your diet.” No one likes to deliver bad news, but they do it good-naturedly.

We can’t make everyone a cheeseburger, but we aim to be sure all Duke Raleigh patients have a good choice of healthy, appropriate foods to choose from. We want to continue to offer patients more and more choices and to make our offerings more akin to what you might order from room service in a hotel. I can’t promise you Bananas Foster, but I promise you food that’s good for you – and tastes good, too.

Duke Raleigh Hospital was recently recognized by the North Carolina Prevention Partners for receiving Gold Apple Status. This award commends the hospital for providing delicious, affordable and healthy foods to all employees all the time. NC Prevention Partners is a state and national leader in guiding schools, hospitals and workplaces to improve their culture of wellness by improving policies and environments that address tobacco use, physical inactivity, poor nutrition and obesity.

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