An Olympic Experience

FoodService Director - What I Learned - Hugh Gittens Hugh Gittens, assistant foodservice director/executive chef at Harris Methodist Fort Worth Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas took a six-month journey to Beijing to cook for the Olympics. He came back with many insights into how to improve a planned Asian station for his new café.

FoodService Director - What I Learned - Hugh GittensHugh Gittens, assistant foodservice director/executive chef at the 710-bed Harris Methodist Fort Worth Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, was one of 7,000 Aramark employees who traveled to Beijing to prepare food during the Olympics. During his six-month journey, Gittens immersed himself in Chinese food and culture. Now, he plans to put that knowledge to work when the hospital opens a new café in April, which will feature an Asian station.

“I’ve always been interested in Asian culture. And they contribute so much to what we do in the culinary industry. I really wanted to see the authentic preparations and ingredients.

The way the Chinese prepare meals is very regional. For instance, you assume they all love and eat rice, and it is a staple overall, but up north, it would be more noodles than you would find in the south and central. You find more spicy dishes come from the Sichuan province. In Beijing, you find more sweet dishes. It wasn’t a generic type of cuisine; you find different flavors depending on where you are in the country. The foods were being prepared based on the local ingredients. They did have what we call ‘national dishes.’ There were certain dishes that you would find in the north and south, but they would have their own take on it—some would be sweeter and some would be spicy.

They have very little processing in the way they prepare foods. The integrity of the ingredients always stood out in the final product. I think a lot of that has to do with the time it takes to prepare their meals. For most meals, it doesn’t take much time. The one dish I found that took the most time was Peking duck, which goes through the drying process before it’s cooked.

We’re getting ready to open a $19-million facility here, and there are some concepts that we will be implementing and Asian is one of them. Aramark has authentic recipes, but we have the opportunity to localize. So recipes that Chinese chefs gave me to learn and practice, I will be able to use at that concept. For instance, in Beijing the fried rice was a lot different in color than I had thought; I thought fried rice was supposed to be brown. The fried rice I saw was white and very simply done, but it still has a lot of flavor. That’s one thing that is going to be different in the new café. I expect when people look at this fried rice they are going to say, ‘Well, OK that doesn’t look like fried rice. It looks plain and bland.’ But once they taste it, they’ll definitely appreciate it. We’ll also have Peking duck as a monthly special. It won’t be authentic because I won’t have the wood burning ovens that I watched them use.

I arrived in Beijing in April. From April until the start of the Olympics, we were learning about local cuisines. Our staff was composed of Chinese chefs from Aramark China and students from the different culinary schools throughout the country, which was a plus because they each brought something different. I was in the Western kitchen training them in Western cuisine. It was a totally different approach because a lot of our dishes are braised or stewed and a lot more time-consuming. There was a temporary language barrier. But we developed a sheet with kitchen terms, weights and measures and conversions. It allowed us to get to know each other and work together before the games.

I saw a U.S basketball game and a Taekwondo match. That was secondary to everything else.

The biggest things I’ve taken away are patience and appropriateness. Patience allowed me to learn, and appropriateness allowed the Chinese people to trust and open up and exchange their culture. By appropriateness I mean never overstepping your boundaries and being totally receptive and always observing and trying to assess from a broader scope. You have to allow things to work out instead of coming to a preconceived conclusion.”



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