Kaiser Permanente cafeterias in-step with culinary movement

(Hillsboro, Ore.) — Baked salmon with blood orange salsa. Pho. Smoked tomato ragu over roasted red bell pepper ravioli. Prepared upon order in a chef-led kitchen. With locally sourced ingredients.

At a hospital.

That’s right. Kaiser Permanente Northwest is breaking the stereotype at Kaiser Permanente Sunnyside Medical Center and will do the same when it opens Westside Medical Center in Hillsboro in 2013.

“In the past, no one who could choose to go elsewhere would eat at a hospital,” says Greg Gates, executive chef at Sunnyside Medical Center. “But we have people who eat here regularly for no reason other than they like the food.”

Sunnyside is at the forefront of a growing movement by hospitals to let executive chefs lead culinary services. Kaiser Permanente in 2009 hired Gates, who has decades of experience in Northwest cuisine at Oregon and Washington restaurants and is backed by formal culinary schooling.

It marked a first for the health care provider. “We at Kaiser Permanente know that increasing access to fresh, healthy food is part and parcel of achieving our goal of improving the health of members*, employees, and the community,” says Kaiser Permanente Sunnyside Medical Center Administrator Susan Mullaney. “So it just makes sense that we should elevate the dining options within the hospital by hiring leadership with a great culinary background.”

Gates’ arrival at Sunnyside coincided with an extensive remodel that included a new cafeteria. It meant Gates had free rein to reinvent food service at the hospital. The cafeteria, known as the Food Court Café, is a popular dining option for many of the more than 2,000 physicians and employees who work on the hospital’s suburban campus. The Food Court Café serves an average of 1,200 meals each day in the cafeteria and an additional 400 daily to patients.

“A lot of our changes are driven by patient input,” Gates says. “What makes them eat better makes them heal better. And if it is sustainably produced and healthy, then we’ve won.”

Nearly all main dish items are made from scratch. Gone are the days of pre-made items such as Salisbury steak with canned green beans and tuna noodle casserole.

“When we make it from scratch, we can control things like salt, the amount of fat, and the type of fat,” Gates says.

Another of Gates’ arrivals is on-demand preparation of patient meals. Called Room Service, patients choose what to eat and when. They call in their requests to the kitchen, where meals are freshly prepared as orders are received. Room Service not only has made patients happier, but it also has reduced food waste nearly tenfold.

Deep fryers have been banished from Sunnyside's new kitchen. In their place are ovens that roast french fries and other formerly fried foods.

When he can, Gates uses food from small local producers. Since 2006, Sunnyside Medical Center’s produce vendor has, as often as possible, sourced fruits and vegetables from farms within 100 miles of the hospital. Sometimes Gates connects with growers online.

During summer months, a produce stand in the cafeteria featuring locally grown produce and another just outside the hospital make it easy for everyone on campus to take home healthy food.

Next on Gates’ agenda is the launch of dining services at the 126-bed Kaiser Permanente Westside Medical Center. Initially, the hospital is expected to serve about 175 patient meals daily, in addition to 450 meals for visitors and staff.

Gates says he’s excited about the prospect of bringing Kaiser Permanente’s brand of hospital dining to Washington County. Almost one person in six in the county is Latino. So in creating menus for the new hospital, Gates plans to reach out to Latino chefs for suggestions and recipes for foods likely to appeal to people of Latino origin.

“In order for everyone to feel at home in the cafeteria and the medical center as a whole, we’re going to have to reflect the diverse taste preferences of our community,” Gates says.                                      

About Kaiser Permanente Northwest
Kaiser Permanente Northwest is part of America’s leading integrated health care organization. Founded in 1945, the organization serves the health needs of more than 8.8 million people in nine states and the District of Columbia. More than 479,000 people in Oregon and Southwest Washington receive their health care from Kaiser Permanente. A nonprofit health plan, Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. For more information, go to kp.org/newscenter.


*References to “Kaiser Permanente members” or “members” include individuals covered under either a Kaiser Permanente health plan or an employer self-funded coverage plan administered through Kaiser Permanente.


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