Ceviche station at UCI Health lures staff and visitors to hospital cafe

The Morrison-run culinary team created Latin-inspired seafood offerings to coincide with National Avocado Day.
Ceviche station
Ceviches and shrimp coctel are served in generous portions and garnished with a chef's touch. | Photos courtesy of Morrison Healthcare.

The rotating “Meet the Chef” station in the cafe at UCI Health in Orange, Calif., was turned into a Latin-themed ceviche bar on July 31—which also happened to be National Avocado Day.

In its continuing mission to appeal to customers with menu enhancements, the culinary team from Morrison Healthcare created three new “Coctel y Ceviche” recipes. On offer that week were Shrimp Coctel, Shrimp Ceviche and Crab Ceviche, all garnished with avocado and served with saltines, tostadas and mayonnaise. Mexican Coke was the beverage of choice.

Executive Chef Kelvin Crisostomo tapped some of the Latin chefs on his team to get ideas and make sure the recipes were authentic. “I grew up eating ceviche, since my mom is from a coastal area of Mexico,” said sous chef Oscar Castillo.

Crisostomo sourced Mexican shrimp and lump crabmeat from Santa Monica Seafood to elevate the recipes. “We thought about using surimi instead of real crab, but we wanted a high-end product to give customers a quality item and experience,” he said.

The ceviches were portioned into 16-ounce cups and the shrimp coctel into a 20-ounce cup—generous servings that sold for $12 to $15. While this may seem expensive for a hospital cafe, these were created as a menu enhancement, not everyday items.

Ceviche menu
The station was decorated to match the Latin theme of the menu. 

“Although we have to target food costs, we couldn’t charge enough for these to make good margins. Plus these high-end seafood items would cost $18-$21 in a restaurant, so diners felt they were getting good value for their money,” said Crisostomo.

Castillo reports that the response was very positive. “We hit all the flavor profiles of ceviche and shrimp coctel, and customers said the three items were as good as fine dining,” he said.

The ceviches, which are “cooked” in lime juice and mixed with vegetables and seasonings, were familiar to Californians who have access to Mexican and Latin eateries. “A good number of the staff are Latin and Filipino and knew what they were,” said Castillo, “but they were surprised that we were serving it for lunch. Plus the hospital workers are used to great food in our cafe, but the visitors were really surprised and pleased.”

Every week, the culinary team writes up a menu and emails it to everyone on the medical center’s campus, so employees know what’s coming. “We highlight one or two national food days a month, taking over the Meet the Chef station and taking it to the next level,” said Bill Lawhead, Morrison’s senior director of culinary and nutrition at UCI Health. That includes themed decorations and employees dressed in funny costumes handing out samples.

At the beginning of August, the chefs celebrated National Watermelon Day, complete with a team member dressed as a watermelon. Coming up Aug. 15 is a Japanese Lantern Festival.  

“We partnered with the DEI council at UCI Health to help with the menu and theme,” said Lawhead. “We are serving chicken yakitori, skewered grilled beef and marinated charred squid on skewers.”

The goal of these special promotions is to elevate food quality and hit all demographics on the large medical campus. UCI Health's cafe does about 5,000 transactions a day.



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