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Ah, the images that evokes. Anonymous meat with solidified gravies, canned green beans, and gelatin that bounces when it's dropped. Happily, things are changing on that score, and the changes are exemplified by what's going on at Mercy, formerly known to most of us as St. John's Mercy Hospital, and the related hospitals of the Mercy group.
We came to this knowledge because the website thedailymeal.com listed their food as one of nine hospitals with - their phrase - "food worth eating." A visit with chef Donald Grace (left), who's taught at the culinary program at Forest Park Community College and ran the kitchen at Westwood Country Club, among his other credentials, shows a real enthusiasm for making food taste better as well as being healthier. And that's not just for patients, although they're certainly the primary focus. Helping healthcare workers eat better too, is good for everyone.
How are they doing it? Menus are being revamped - a whole new patient menu is being rolled out later this month. Patients pick up a phone and order their meal. On the other end of the phone is a food service worker who will help the patient plan a meal that fits into any physician-ordered restrictions or personal preferences. The meals arrive in about 45 minutes.
And if nothing on the mix-and-match menu appeals - there are 21 entrees from salads to steaks - patients can order food from the stations at the cafeteria. That's where things really start to get zingy. The changes are particularly evident there. Overall, they're cooking a lot more from scratch, which lets them do things like customize salt and sugar levels and eliminate preservatives. Plenty of vegetarian options and forays into international cuisine abound. Chef Grace is proud of his CIA classes in Asian and Mediterranean specialties, and waxes enthusiastic about things like offering a pho bar, with plenty of good stuff to stir into the Vietnamese soup.
All this means the kitchen staff is acquiring new skills. Instead of mostly thawing and heating the corporate food-service products, they're making salad dressings and remoulade sauce, and learning how to prepare sides of fresh salmon. There's always pizza on hand, its crust made in-house, and there's a gluten-free option for that, too. Fat, granny-sized cookies scent one corner of the cafeteria. Long-time hospital workers probably never thought they'd be seeing things like garbanzo beans and quinoa alongside the usual burgers and roasts in the cafeteria. The cautious eater has familiar things, certainly, and they haven't stopped selling things like potato chips.
But it's all adding up to making mealtime exciting on lots of different levels.
Photography by Taylor Ringenberg