The foodservice ‘tourist’ reborn

Published in FSD Update

Foodservice tour of Rush University Medical Center the first of many Midwest visits.

One of the most exciting aspects of my move from New York City to Chicagoland is the opportunity to begin touring the Midwest to see foodservice operations that once required a plane ride and a few days out of the office to visit. I’m envisioning a fall filled with day trips to local colleges, hospitals, schools and corporations.

I made my first visit of the season last week, quite by happenstance. My wife had an appointment with a neurosurgeon whose office is in the Professional Building at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Because it was her first time seeing this doctor, I decided to drive her to the appointment. Now, I know Mary Gregoire, the hospital’s foodservice director, quite well, but it had been at least 10 years since I had visited her operation. So I called Mary and arranged a visit to tour the hospital’s recently completed patient tower and to see what may be in the future for the medical center.

The tour was impressive; the LEED-certified tower itself is a marvel of sustainability. On the foodservice side, the tower includes a staff-only dining room and galleys on each patient floor, where staff can prepare a variety of items for patients who for whatever reason did not like the meal they received.

Mary explained that the medical center’s logistics would make it extremely difficult for her department to do room service, so the galleys help improve patient satisfaction by providing them with alternatives. The Food Galley menu includes such items as chicken noodle soup, grilled cheese sandwich, hamburger, cheese omelet and lemon basil chicken. There are also a variety of cereals, sides and desserts offered.

But for me, the most interesting—and unexpected—part of the visit was the opportunity to taste a number of menu items being considered for a new restaurant-style menu that Mary said she hopes to introduce in November.

As we completed a walk-through of the basement kitchen, Mary ushered me into a conference room where executive chef Stan Walker and pastry chef/bakery manager Timothy Dvorak had laid out an array of entrées, sandwiches and desserts under consideration.

It was a wonderfully overwhelming experience to get a chance to weigh in on the process. The choices included slow-cooked pot roast, teriyaki-glazed salmon, pulled pork sandwich, turkey bacon wrap, jerk chicken salad, key lime tart, chocolate fondue (actually a chocolate ganache cut with orange juice), a dish of macerated strawberries and blueberries and a tres leche cupcake—which Timothy said is the most popular choice among the staff who have sampled the items. (To see photos of some of the proposed menu items, visit here.)

“We really can’t do room service, but a restaurant-style menu will give us the ability to offer patients more choices and improve patient satisfaction,” said Mary.

It was impossible for me to taste everything, especially since earlier in the tour I had sampled a number of items from the retail menu—including a very tasty quinoa breakfast parfait. But I have to give a thumbs up to the tender pot roast, the salmon and the tres leche cupcake, which was so moist I had to eat it with a spoon.

My time with Mary Gregoire and her staff is just one of several reasons why I love my job. Seeing firsthand how operators work to keep up with the trends and meet the challenges of the foodservice industry provides a deeper insight into the stories we report. Getting to eat while doing it makes the job just that much more palatable.

I am looking forward to continuing this road tour of the Midwest. Are you in the area and want to show off your operation, or are you planning a newsworthy special event? Give me a call at 646-708-7320 or send me an email at pking@cspnet.com and let me know. I’ve love to opportunity to add you to my schedule.

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