Achieving authenticity can be tricky. Late last year, Oberlin College landed in the news when students protested the way dining services at the Ohio school was botching ethnic food, serving up inauthentic versions of Asian and Middle Eastern dishes. It’s a challenge other operators are confronting, too, often tapping staff and patrons for inspiration.
At 260-bed Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Scottish Rite, Executive Chef Bradley Czajka, himself of Polish-Ukrainian descent, started Global Stations as a way to recognize the diversity of cultures at the hospital.
“We have such an eclectic group—the cooks, the foodservice attendants, nurses and patients include people from Malaysia, Thailand, Jamaica, India and more,” he says. That inspired Czajka to expand the global offerings that were available, he says.
To accurately develop recipes , Czajka invites hospital staff into his kitchen to teach his team how to prepare their native dishes. “We call it our ‘Romper Room’ playtime,” he says. “The coolest part of cooking is learning from other people’s cultures.”
Perfected recipes become part of the menu in three-day rotations. Czajka then solicits feedback from diners. “People are not shy or hesitant with us; they tell us what they think,” he says. “You may have someone of Korean descent that says, ‘This was on point,’ or, ‘That was nowhere near what my grandma made.’”
In Minneapolis, a city with a large Hmong community, the Hennepin County Medical Center serves new mothers a Hmong stewed chicken dish traditionally eaten after childbirth. When the kitchen first started preparing the meal, it wasn’t quite right, says Bill Marks, Hennepin’s director of food, nutrition and environmental services. “The herbs needed to make the dish truly authentic were not available,” he says, “so we decided to grow them on our patio garden.” The herbs are vacuum-sealed after growing season so the dish can be prepared all year.
At Children’s Healthcare, Czajka subscribes to a flexible definition of authenticity. “Someone can always say [a dish] isn’t authentic because you are not native,” he says. “But one of our greatest assests is our people. ... When you learn from someone else’s experience, then a recipe goes from being a copy of an authentic recipe into something that is truly authentic because it is full of love and passion.”