Chefs do it veggie-style

For Vegetarian Awareness Month, chefs at Lee Memorial Health System compete in a vegetarian cook-off.

Published in Healthcare Spotlight

lee memorial health vegetarian cook-off

As part of Vegetarian Awareness Month, the culinary team at Lee Memorial Health System in Florida gave special focus to vegetarian foods. They created weekly cafeteria specials in the system’s four hospitals to encourage experimentation with meatless alternatives and recipes.  The chefs travelled to each hospital with guests voting on the best dish, culminating in a cook off competition.

“Nov. 5 was chosen as the date for our Grand Champion Cook-off because it is the American Heart Association’s National Healthy Eating Day,” says Larry Altier, System Director of Food and Nutrition Services for Lee Memorial Health System. “We thought it would be a fun and interactive way to celebrate this day that is meant to inspire everyone to make healthier food choices. We had great turnouts at the hospitals. Roughly 2,400 staff members stopped by to learn more and sample the food.”

Altier adds that part of the goal of the program was to emphasize proper nutrition as an important part of a healthy lifestyle. A vegetarian diet can reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity, he notes. 

Four chefs competed for a chance to earn the title of Grand Champion:  Chris Jameson of Cape Coral Hospital; Amauris “Ace” Mazano of Gulf Coast Medical Center; Jack Brown of HealthPark Medical Center, and Jason Goetz from Lee Memorial Hospital. Four guest judges—Rowe Hudson, director of Lee Health Solutions; Kathy Reynaert, facilitator of the Complete Health Improvement Program (CHIP); Kelly Goodwien, director of the American Heart Association; and Jessica Carter Peer, a Lee Memorial Health System board member—chose the best overall dish: Jason Goetz’s salad made with kale, beets, sweet potatoes and chickpeas.

Goetz received the Vegetarian Grand Champion trophy, which will be displayed at Lee Memorial Hospital. All four chefs received gift baskets and food-related gift cards for their participation. Goetz says the competition has inspired him to create new vegetarian dishes in the coming months.

“We are fortunate to have such a talented group of professionals working in our kitchens,” Altier says. “The dishes they created for this competition will make their way onto our menus in the months to come. We will definitely continue this event next year..”

Altier credits Rose Garcia, a coder in Health Information Management for the health system, as instrumental in getting the event off the ground . He refers to Garcia as “an awesome vegetarian ambassador.” 

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