Creating sustainable menus is a focus at every healthcare facility in the Sharp network, an aim that takes into account how food is produced, sourced, prepared and packaged. Plant-forward eating is a driver of this sustainability mission, but Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center takes it up a notch or two.
Foodservice operations at this San Diego-area medical center are managed by Sodexo, and Executive Chef Justin Searle develops many recipes and menus along the guidelines of that company’s Nourish program.
Nourish was inspired by the eating habits of people living in Blue Zones, areas of the world known as longevity “hot spots” because they have a higher proportion of inhabitants who live past 100. Their diets are rich in grains, vegetables and fruits, as well as functional foods that provide added health benefits, such as prebiotics, probiotics and anti-inflammatory compounds.
Chef Searle came to Sharp after working at upscale hotels and brings a fine-dining legacy to his position. But he combines that culinary experience with “a pretty holistic approach to health and wellness at home,” he says. Searle applies both mindsets to the dishes he creates for cafes, retail outlets and patient menus.
Nuts and seeds are important ingredients in his repertoire, and they recently shined in a popular Broccoli-Pesto Flatbread. “Raw broccoli and walnuts are the base of the pesto, then I combine that with blanched broccoli on the flatbread crust,” he says.
Bowls are a big hit, and Searle uses them as a vehicle to combine smaller portions of animal protein with plants. A customer favorite paired sockeye salmon with arugula, kale, radishes, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds, drizzled with an avocado-citrus vinaigrette. He also relies on plant proteins, such as black-eyed peas, lentils and quinoa to ramp up nutritional value, and uses jackfruit in place of meat.
When possible, Sharp Chula Vista sources from local farms and the just-picked produce goes into chef’s specials that day. Plus, two units have their own gardens, says Searle, and cooks are able to harvest fresh basil and other herbs, eggplant, bell peppers and more right on the hospital grounds.