Stanford Medicine Newsletter Updates For the Local Community

Culinary partnership

Organic cuisine on hospital’s new healthy menu

Jesse Cool (left), a noted chef and restaurateur, worked closely with Beni Velazquez, Stanford Hospital’s executive chef, to develop the Farm Fresh menu.

   

Stanford Hospital patients now have the choice of a new lunch and dinner menu featuring organic, local and sustainably grown ingredients. The hospital’s Farm Fresh program was developed in collaboration with Jesse Cool, a nationally recognized Northern California chef, restaurateur and food writer who has been a leading advocate of healthy eating for more than 30 years.

The new menu puts Stanford Hospital at the forefront of an emerging nationwide recognition that fresh, healthy food is a vital part of the healing process. It debuts as major health-concerned organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association, have begun to establish policies that recognize the special value to patients of meals made with ecologically sustainable, natural foods of high nutritional quality. The American Public Health Association has endorsed a similar policy.

“Stanford is known for providing our patients with the latest medical advances and treatments in an environment that promotes healing,” said Stanford Hospital CEO Martha Marsh. “This exciting new approach to the food we serve our patients is not just an amenity. It is part of our commitment to help patients heal as quickly as possible and to feel comfortable and cared for while they are here.”

The first seasonal options feature seven vegetable soups, including corn with smoked cheddar, roasted tomato and basil, carrot ginger with curry, and red bell pepper with goat cheese. A chicken noodle soup with vegetables, made with a long-simmered broth, will always be on the menu. For patients who need extra protein, the vegetable soups can be bolstered with the addition of tofu, poached chicken or meatballs made from grass-fed beef. All of the menu choices will be low in fat, salt and sugar, and are available to any patient on an unrestricted diet.

The soups inaugurate an innovative approach to patient food unusual in most American hospitals. “Institutional food has unfortunately not been as good as it should be,” Cool said. “Fortunately, in the last few years, people have made the connection between food and well-being. Stanford is now a part of that shift toward a hospital cuisine that’s soulfully appealing and makes one feel good.”

Menu with a message

   

Keeping in mind the traditionally bland look of food in hospitals, Cool worked with the hospital to enhance the selections’ visual appeal. The carrot ginger soup with curry, for instance, is a brilliant gold; the baked apple has a caramel-like burnish. The tray liners feature bold photographic images that evoke Stanford’s farm heritage.

The new Cool soup recipes are printed on the menus, so that patients can make them at home. And the menu offers the type of descriptions more commonly found in restaurants than in hospitals. For example, the menu says the chicken noodle soup is “made from scratch, simmering organic ingredients for hours in our kitchen. The rich broth is poured over tiny noodles, bits of poached vegetables and tender, moist organic chicken. Just like mom’s, with nurturing care in every spoonful.”

All of the serving implements and printed materials have been produced with resource conservation in mind. The tray liners, bowls, cups and utensils are all made from materials that are reusable, compostable or recyclable.

The health benefits of the new menu options are obvious, Marsh said. “And delicious comfort food like a beautiful basil corn soup can also lift your spirits — that’s another way to promote healing. Not only are we feeding people well when they are in our care, we are encouraging them to go home and think of cooking differently. That’s an important message in this program.”

Taste tests

At a special tasting set up for patients, hospital employees and media this summer, all the soups on the new menu were ladled out for their official debut. The samples disappeared quickly. A few sips of one particular soup persuaded one hospital employee to change her mind about a certain vegetable. “This is the best cauliflower soup I’ve ever had,” said Hospital Chaplain, the Rev. Susan Scott, “and I don’t even like cauliflower!”

“We all know how integral healthy food is to the healing process. This will help people talk about health and nutrition throughout their lives,” said Chief Medical Officer Kevin Tabb, who joined Marsh to kick off the tasting.

The hospital’s registered dietitians were especially interested in testing out the soups. “Our patients want to eat healthy,” said Helen Hong, who came with two of her colleagues to sample the offerings. “And anyone can understand soup. Plus, it sits in the stomach well.”

Cool told the assembled tasters that she was inspired to think about hospital food after her father and mother were hospitalized and asked her to bring soup from her restaurant.

Cuisine teamwork

To fine-tune the new menu, Cool worked with Stanford Hospital’s executive chef, Beni Velazquez, who joined the hospital in December 2008. Velazquez is a certified chef instructor with the Culinary Institute of America, is a former chef at the Ritz Carlton, and he previously owned restaurants in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

Although Velazquez’s experience is with larger-scale food services than Cool has known, the two chefs immediately “spoke the same language,” Cool said.

Velazquez is delighted with this step for the hospital. “I would never have thought of doing hospital food,” he said, “but Stanford has a vision, and this is a very cutting-edge program. We may not be cooking just like your mom did, but we are doing something to help patients feel better.”

Marsh championed the program’s development after a conversation over dinner with Cool and Robert Robbins, MD, the hospital’s chief of cardiothoracic surgery. Robbins met Cool at her Menlo Park restaurant, the Flea St. Café, whose menu features fresh organic ingredients. Robbins had not needed much convincing after hearing Cool’s idea.

“Once people are in the hospital, especially when they have major surgeries, their digestive systems do not work quite as well,” Robbins said. “This kind of food is perfect.”

The program’s Farm Fresh name recalls Stanford University’s origins as a stock farm for the thoroughbreds of its founder, Leland Stanford. A century ago, visitors to the more than 8,000-acre Stanford farm could see acres of vegetable and grain crops, orchards and vineyards planted by Jane and Leland Stanford.

“If Stanford Hospital can play a leadership role in this area and be an advocate for organic, local and sustainable foods for patients, we’re proud to take that responsibility,” Marsh said.

Learn more about Stanford Hospital’s Farm Fresh program and check out the soup recipes at stanfordhospital.org/farmfresh.


Corn with Basil and Smoked Cheddar Soup

  • 4 ears corn (2 pounds kernels)
  • 8 cups water
  • 10 ounces onions, chopped coarsely
  • 8 ounces potatoes, peeled, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup basil, packed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 8 ounces smoked cheddar cheese, grated

Remove kernels from cobs. Break cobs in half and put in a large pot with the water, onions, and potatoes. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes.

Remove cobs. Add corn kernels, basil, salt and pepper. Purée. Add the cheese and stir. Serves 6–8.

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