Wisconsin hospital chef remaking healthcare dining

New name and garden transforming hospital foodservice.

Aug 29—A new executive chef has put bland, boring hospital food is on notice at University of Wisconsin Health Partners Watertown Regional Medical Center.

Hospitals, where people go to feel better, ironically are among the last bastions of institutional food. But this 50-bed hospital is pulling the plug on heat-and-serve chicken, frozen vegetables and prepackaged pudding.

Executive Chef Justin Johnson is on a mission, with the hospital's blessing and considerable financial support. The kitchen soon will undergo state-of-the-art reconstructive surgery to make way for scratch cooking and separate prep areas for vibrant, locally sourced ingredients, in keeping with the ambitious vision Johnson was hired in April to put into action.

For starters, the hospital's food service has been renamed Nourishment.

A new 11,000-square-foot garden beyond the parking lot, at the bottom of a grassy hill, is bursting with late-summer tomatoes - everything from Romas, beefsteak, yellow and red heirloom tomatoes to cherry tomatoes and little yellow pear tomatoes. Among the varieties of peppers ripening near the tomatoes are Pinot Noir, red, yellow and green bell peppers, plus serrano peppers.