Meatless competition challenges chefs

Published in FSD Update

The winning team.

For the third year in a row, North Shore-LIJ Health System, in New York, staged its Ultimate Chef Challenge among the system’s 13 healthcare facilities. But this year’s culinary competition had a bit of a twist: The chefs had to create a healthful entrée using tofu, tempeh, seitan or chickpeas.

“It was definitely a challenge,” says Michael Kiley, director of nutrition and dining services at North Shore University Hospital. “When the chefs heard about the protein, some of them said they were scared.”

But the chefs performed like troupers and worked through their fear to come up with an amazing array of dishes, Kiley says.

The winning dish was Seitan Polenta Croquette with Spicy Pesto Sauce, Zucchini Radicchio Salad and Melon Shooter, created by Lyndon Espiritu and Dalton Christopher, of Glen Cove Hospital. Second place went to Forest Hills Hospital for Tempeh-stuffed Eggplant with Carrot Purée and Blackberry Coulis. Huntington Hospital took third for its Raspberry Tofu Blintzes.

“March was National Nutrition Month, and we really wanted to show off the skill sets of our chefs by having them create healthy meatless dishes,” Kiley says. While the creations did not have to be vegan, they did have to meet certain health parameters for calories, fat and sodium. So strict were the rules—a maximum of 500 calories, 15 grams fat and 600 milligrams sodium—that each team had a dietitian assigned to it, writing down the recipes as they were being created and calculating the nutritionals on the spot.

“We really need to be more creative with our vegetarian dishes,” Kiley explains. “The old way was to just give people veggie burgers. We want to serve dishes that can be considered mainstream items because they are great tasting.”

To add a little bit more color to the event—and to emphasize the importance of adding a lot of color to your diet—the teams were each dressed in a different color chef’s coat. Kiley also took those chefs who were unfamiliar with using items like tofu to the Natural Gourmet Institute, in Manhattan, for a quick education.