Regional differences challenge menu planners in Virginia health system.
Carilion Clinic in Roanoke, Va., is made up of nine hospitals, each with its own distinct taste preference. Creating menus to meet those differences can sometimes be a challenge, admit Laura Gunter, R.D., director of dining and nutrition services, and Jay Brinkley, culinary director for FoodService Partners, the company that manages the system’s centralized kitchen.
Gunter: “Each hospital has its own cultural acceptance of menu items. We have regional opinions, even within southwest Virginia. We start with a base recipe and the hospitals can alter those to fit their population’s tastes. We had a need for a new chili recipe. We were buying a product, and for a smaller facility to use a five-pound container up within our time standard of two or three days, it just wasn’t happening.
The ideas come from our menu teams, which are dietitians on the patient side or supervisors and cooks on the retail side. Then we go to FSP and say we’re looking for this, will you make a recipe for us? That’s what happened with the chili we serve in retail. We tested it four or five times and there were 12 people tasting it each time.”
Brinkley: “We had a landmark location downtown called the Roanoke Weiner Stand. It was located in an arts theatre and that theatre needed to be remodeled so they had to tear it down. The chili was then no longer available. At the same time, the system was looking for a hot dog chili. So I said, ‘let’s resurrect the Roanoke Weiner Stand hot dog chili recipe.’ We had 12 different people who remembered different flavors for that chili.”
Gunter: “Some said it tasted like taco meat. Some said it had too much tomato; some said it needed more tomato. Then some supervisors and Jay had a contest to see who could get it right.”
Brinkley: “The supervisors modeled their version off the Ben’s Chili Bowl (a D.C. restaurant). They put a hint of curry in there. Southwest Virginia is no place for curry.”
Gunter: “We finally thought we got a chili that everyone would like and we sent it out. Nobody would say anything and then hospitals said they didn’t like it. We made a simple tweak to the recipe and now everybody likes it.
For our barbecue, we use a vinegar base because of the health benefits. At some of the hospitals south of here they do not want vinegar based, they want tomato based. Those patients get a hamburger that day because they won’t eat the recipe. Or some facilities are adding a little bit of tomato or barbecue sauce in order to make it have a more tomato taste.”
Brinkley: “Another simple one we had a hard time coming together on was pinto beans. It’s common to cook pinto beans with a little bit of fatback. Well, that’s not something the dietitians were enamored with. We ended up with a compromise. We put in some onion.”