Mary Kimbrough's Mantra: Always In Good Taste

Dietitians, chefs must learn to work together, 24-year healthcare veteran says. She also advocates a return to whole foods.

FoodService Director - Spotlight - Mary KimbroughMany of the sea changes that have served to burnish the reputation of hospital foodservice can be traced back to the office of Mary Kimbrough, RD, LD, who has served for the past 17 years as director of nutrition and hospitality services at Zale Lipshy University Hospital in Dallas. Today, the Zale Lipshy name is gone from the list of Dallas-area facilities since it, along with its sister hospital, St. Paul’s (acquired in 2001), became part of UT Southwestern University Hospitals in 2005 and is now a state facility.

And, as of last September, Kimbrough’s name is gone from the staff roster as well, since she officially handed on her whisk and Palm Pilot to Ashley Meister, RD, LD, in order to embark upon her very own food tour and special event enterprise (FoodRoots.com).

Heading for the hills: “For the past few years, I’ve been interested in artisanal food growers and wine makers in the Texas Hill Country,” she explains. “I’ve enjoyed doing tours for food groups over the years and hope it brings value to the grower/producers—and perhaps I’ve been able to change how people view food. There should be nutritional value in it, but mainly we [with business partner Mark Haley] want people to reconnect with their roots. I look to do custom tours and events, and set up FoodRoots.com several years ago. I’ve been fortunate in being connected with numerous groups such as Slow Food USA, International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP), Les Dames d’Escoffier, etc., so the [business] connections are there.”

A “foodie” since childhood, Kimbrough credits her father, a Presbyterian minister, with having championed her interests in both food and medicine by steering her to a career in dietetics. “I grew up in Fort Worth, went to UT Austin, then did my internship in Milwaukee and have been in Dallas ever since,” she says.

“The first job I applied for was as clinical dietitian at Parkland Health & Hospital System—but they had an administrative job open, overseeing catering and management of kitchen employees, that they thought would suit me better. So, at the age of 22, I wound up with about 55 employees reporting to me. Parkland mentored me well, especially Celia Krazit, MS, RD, LD, director of dietetic services, who I still consider a great mentor and a good friend.”

Mentoring the chefs: In 1989, Kimbrough assumed her position at Zale Lipshy, a boutique hospital that put a strong emphasis on food quality; it needed to be fresh and healthful for both patients and staff. “We were probably out in front of the culinary movement in hospitals in attracting chefs and retaining them,” she points out. “It was hard to figure out what would attract and motivate them. Besides gas cook-tops vs. electric ranges in the kitchen, and chef’s jackets, we found there must be creativity in menu development, great ingredients and being conversant yourself with what’s current in the industry.”

Nurturing that good partnership with chefs has made a huge difference, Kimbrough contends, and that means having respect for what they do and letting them see your awareness of new trends and products.

“At the outset, Victor Gielisse was a great help in developing our Culinary Enhancement Program,” she asserts.

He’s a master chef—a phenomenal culinarian—and he helped us work with chefs and set us up to be a successful culinary department. But without the support of my v.p., Allyn Giacomazzi, it wouldn’t have been possible. He was really my ‘partner’ and supported me when I wanted to hire Victor.”

During the early to mid-1990s, keeping in mind her ongoing goal of de-mystifying healthful cooking through education, Kimbrough helped develop a series of cooking classes at the hospital under the umbrella, “In Good Taste,” later the title of a 444-page cookbook published in 1999 by Prentice Hall in collaboration with Victor and Kathryn Gielisse; sessions were presented in conjunction with the campus’ Center for Human Nutrition.

Kimbrough also pioneered the development of on-site c-stores, offering food-related products including reheatable meals. In addition, she took on other retail operations, such as the gift shop, and, along with food areas, rolled them into broader settings. “With less labor needed it was very successful,” she says. “But then, I’ve had such a great team to work with—that’s why I’ve been here 17 years!”

Tasty ‘diets’: Liberalized diets, a concept gaining broad currency today, was a Kimbrough initiative early on. Instead of focusing on therapeutic diets, she and her staff decided to focus on making food healthful in general.

“Our goal was to get people to want to eat, to be recovering, and to get them home,” she reports. “Plus, there’s a big disconnect between what people did in real life versus in this microcosm. We put the focus on making healthful food taste great.”

Throughout the years, Kimbrough—recipient of the 1998 IFMA Silver Plate in Healthcare—has had two over-arching messages that dovetail neatly with both her past career and the one to come. The first is that dietitians and chefs should become good friends and not adversaries. By working together they can present nutritious food that can look good and taste great. The other is that variety and moderation are the keys to healthy eating. “I’d like to see people going back to whole foods, putting more value back into what we’re eating and valuing the person who produces the food,” she says.

ADA accolade: As a fitting finale to her career, the American Dietetic Association recently named Kimbrough the Lenna Frances Cooper award winner. As recipient of this prestigious accolade, Kimbrough is slated to give a lecture during the ADA’s national conference in Philadelphia next year. Her not-so-secret topic? “It will focus on dietitians being the secret ingredient—too much of a secret even today,” she admits.

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
phone bed call sick

We make people call and directly talk to their boss or supervisor if they are reporting an absence for a shift. While it is more cumbersome, it is a conscious decision. We have adapted and implemented electronic methods to obtain efficiencies in just about every other functional area, except for electronic absence reporting systems. The direct supervisor can put more pressure on an employee to show up—especially those with some form of the “Super Bowl plague”—than any electronic system can.

Menu Development
ranch dressing chicken fingers

While salad bars are often the first place K-12 operators look to incorporate more fresh produce, few go as far as making their own salad dressings. But last fall, in a continuing effort to transition from prepackaged meals to an all-scratch menu, Mark Augustine, executive chef of culinary and nutrition services for Minneapolis Public Schools, switched to concocting four varieties in-house—ranch, Caesar, Italian and Asian vinaigrette. The move, designed to eliminate artificial ingredients and lower fat and sodium, presented the biggest challenge when it came to ranch dressing, the school-...

Ideas and Innovation
business card

We get the new folks abridged business cards saying, “Hi, my name is so-and-so and I work in nutrition department.” We thought it would give them more ownership of the program and elevate their status and position in the organization. It also gives our team more self-confidence and self-worth as an employee, which can be a challenge with foodservice workers.

Ideas and Innovation
tug hospital robot

Automation has opened up in recent years as foodservice operators across the country grapple with labor shortages. Robots deliver food trays to patients in hospitals, and they make sushi on college campuses. For some operators, they’re worthwhile to reduce strain on human employees and increase productivity.

Robots roamed the hallways when the University of California San Francisco Medical Center’s new Mission Bay campus opened last year. Though these robots have nicknames like Wall-E and Tuggie McFresh, they’re not a novelty. They’re a solution to a problem that administrators...

FSD Resources