5 hospital chefs compete for gold with plant-forward recipes

The 2021 Health Care Culinary Contest broke new barriers for plant-forward cooking, and our five finalists took the proverbial cake with plant-forward recipes as innovative and diverse as the chefs who created them.

From traditional meals like Shoyu poke, korma, and birria reimagined to delicious, one-of-a-kind culinary delicacies like butternut squash farrotto and a sweet potato crunch bowl, our top five have gone above and beyond to redefine comfort food.

Up next, students, chefs, and their professors at the College of Food Innovation & Technology at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island will cook, plate, and judge the recipes.

We will announce the winning recipe and celebrate America’s next top hospital chef at CleanMed 2022, the premier national conference for leaders in health care sustainability, May 10–12 in Kansas City.

Meet the chefs, and hear the stories behind their delicious plant-forward recipes.

(Click on the the finalists names to download their recipes)

NYU Langone Health’s butternut squash & green pea farrotto

Rich and creamy butternut squash and green pea farro served with toasted sunflower seeds and sage pesto

“At NYU Langone Health, we are constantly looking for ways to make plant-based eating exciting, engaging, and delicious!” — Jeffrey Held

Hospital

NYU Langone Health in New York City

Chef

Jeffrey Held

NYU Langone Health’s Chef Jeffery Held with Dr. Mary Pat Gallagher

What is the story of your recipe?

At NYU Langone Health, we are constantly looking for ways to make plant-based eating exciting, engaging, and delicious! We love whole grains, especially ones that have been eaten all over the world for hundreds of years without genetic or chemical modification. In this recipe, we used farro and unlocked a very interesting technique. Farro is high in protein, iron, magnesium, and fiber, and when the hulls are cracked in the blender prior to cooking, you can prepare it just like risotto. By allowing the gluten to activate with continued stirring, you can create the rich and creamy texture of risotto. Unlike arborio rice, farro has a complex, nutty flavor and depth that can’t be recreated. Farro is also very low on the glycemic index, meaning it can help keep blood sugar spikes to a minimum and supply the body with continuous, long-term energy.

How did you feature your recipe?

We worked closely with an NYU physician and diabetes educator to develop this recipe. First, we featured the recipe on our cooking show Cooking for Wellness at NYU Langone. After publishing the episode on our intranet and YouTube channel, we posted the recipe card and added it to our digital display menus in the cafe. The dish was heavily promoted on online menus, our mobile ordering system, and digital displays in cafes.

Peace Health Saint Joseph’s Shoyu beet poke bowl

Roasted beets marinated in Shoyu sauce served over rice with pineapple chutney and garnished with radishes, carrot, avocado, macadamia nuts, edamame, cucumber, jalapeno, and sesame seeds

Beets are the new tuna.— Andy Nguyen

Hospital

Peace Health Saint Joseph in Bellingham, Wash.

Chef

Andy Nguyen

What is the story of your recipe?

This dish really tugs at my love of fresh #realfood and Hawaiian flavors. I absolutely love poke — the freshness, the vibrant flavors, and the versatility behind it all excites me. When I was working at the W hotel in Seattle, I worked for a chef that was very Hawaiian-influenced, so this dish is a nod to him. Also, it revolves around rice, which growing up was a big staple in our household. I think the concept behind it is familiar, but it eats meaty — which it’s not — as a vegetarian dish. It also attracts people as simple to make and allows them to try a lot of things like beets, which sometimes people do not necessarily gravitate to first, but cooking it in a way like Shoyu makes it familiar.

Shoyu sauce

Ngyuen achieves a “meaty” flavor for his roasted beets by marinating them in a house-made Shoyu sauce made of soy mirin, rice wine, vinegar, honey, and sambal hot sauce. Finely diced onion, garlic, and ginger are whisked in with sesame oil and green onions to complete the dish.

How did you feature your recipe?

We highlighted it in our cafe and posted it on our Instagram page.

Stanford Hospital’s wild mushroom birria with black bean and almond arepas

An original version of a Mexican classic, this rich stew is made from wild mushrooms and dried chilies served over black bean and almond arepas, and finished with tangy slaw and toasted pumpkin seeds.

“The traditional birria dish symbolizes love, family, and comfort.” — Justin Rucobo

Hospital

Stanford Hospital in Stanford, Calif.

Chef

Justin Rucobo

Meet the chef

Growing up in a Canadian and Hispanic household, Rucobo sharpened his creativity with food at a young age. His passion for cooking paved the way to a long and fulfilling journey in the restaurant industry and eventually in health care, where he is continuously challenged to reimagine food as medicine.

What is the story of your recipe?

The inspiration for the recipe is rooted in my memories of family gatherings filled with stories, laughter, and good food. I recall fond memories of my grandmother and great aunts effortlessly preparing the traditional dish, bringing comfort and warmth during annual family reunions. Relatives would then gather around the table relishing togetherness. The traditional birria dish symbolizes love, family, and comfort for me.

This rich, traditional Mexican dish is authentically served as a stew with goat, lamb, or beef and a variety of spices and dried chiles. It is garnished with fresh toppings and a side of warm corn tortillas.

To recreate this hearty and fragrant dish, I started with wild mushrooms and a variety of chiles, replicating a flavorful, stew-like consistency. This dish has everything a birria should have — sweet, earthy, smoky, and spicy notes. The arepa is a twist on the customary tortilla. This South American unleavened “cake” is nutritionally enhanced with black beans as one of the key ingredients.

The dish is finished with a tangy slaw and toasted pumpkin seeds, adding a crispy texture and elevated notes of apple cider vinegar.

How did you feature your recipe?

Stanford Health Care’s mission of healing humanity one patient at a time extends to our food as medicine philosophy. Healing through food that is sustainable and flavorful is our commitment to our patients and community.

This dish represents our passion for locally-sourced and clean ingredients without compromising flavor.

We introduced our dish at the Stanford Hospital cafeteria as a lunch special. I was on hand to answer questions and share my vision of this plant-forward dish.

Closing thoughts

Some comments from our guests include:

“I didn’t know what to expect when I ordered this. I gave it a shot and I am so happy that I did!”

“Very balanced dish — an umami bomb!”

“Love the toasty notes from the pumpkin seeds!”

Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System’s curry sweet potato power crunch bowl

This dish is a flavorful blend of spices, local seasonal vegetables, and grains featuring sweet potato, shallot, cauliflower, kale, grape tomatoes, chickpeas, and red peppers served over couscous, tossed in a house-made tahini dressing, and garnished with roasted pumpkin seeds and dried cranberries.

“I love the use of the crunchy kale, the smoothness of the tahini, the pop of the chickpeas, the warmth of the curry, and the sweetness of the cranberries.” — Artina Lindsey

Hospital

Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System in Spartanburg, S.C.

Chef

Artina Lindsey

Meet the chef

A Chicago native, Chef Artina Lindsey attended Johnson & Wales University and currently serves as an executive chef in health care. Starting her professional food career in 2006, Lindsey cut her teeth working in various facets of the business including corporate and special event catering, universities, hospitals, and racetracks. With experience working and traveling abroad to Japan, Germany, and the U.K. as well as numerous U.S. cities, Lindsey’s diverse culinary point of view focuses on regional, vegan, and plant-based cuisine. Lindsey enjoys working within disproportionately-impacted communities to help educate and share her love of vegan and plant-based cuisine and her custom spice blends and sauces. Lindsey is the founder and CEO of Pink Salt Chef, LLC, a 100% vegan and plant-based cuisine company, and the author of “Pink salt: An eclectic journey of alkaline veganism.” With a focus on the balance of heat and flavor, Lindsey, also known as “the spice queen,” specializes in education, special demos, catering, and a host of other services.

What is the story of your recipe?

This recipe is a culmination of community farmers and my sons. I work with local farms, especially those owned by people of color, to expose their harvest to the health care community. The farmers drop off baskets of produce for me to transform, which helps them market the endless possibilities of their amazing produce. We often use local produce on our salad bars and in retail production, and we sell the items to hospital staff.

This recipe has been altered and updated over the past year due to changes in product availability. I love the use of the crunchy kale, the smoothness of the tahini, the pop of the chickpeas, the warmth of the curry, and the sweetness of the cranberries.

How did you feature your recipe?

We featured it in our plant-based station, which has a different menu every day. We posted on the hospital’s internal communication boards and signs and spoke with staff directly to invite them.

Closing thoughts

In addition to this being a hit at the hospital, my sons enjoy this one sheet pan meal. I can pile on the vegetables, roast, and we are eating in about 30 minutes. There is minimal cleanup, and we can get on with our evening.

UW Health’s Afghan-style vegetable korma

This traditional Afgan stew is slow-cooked with garbanzo beans, peppers, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, and green beans, and is seasoned with cilantro, turmeric, and coriander. It is served with basmati rice and naan bread.

“Being a refugee with a sick child in an unknown country can feel devastating. Our team is committed to helping by providing nourishing, culturally appropriate food for these patients and their families.” — Lisa Boté

Hospital

UW Health in Madison, Wis.

Chefs

Shekeba Samadzada and Dan Hess

What is the story of your recipe?

Many of us who work in health care food service bring restaurant hospitality to every shift. We believe it is an honor and a privilege to prepare and serve food that helps patients and family members feel nourished, welcome, and safe.

When Afghanistan fell to the Taliban in August 2021, our culinary and clinical nutrition teams knew that we would be called on to support pediatric Afghan refugees coming from Fort McCoy, an Army installation 110 miles northwest of Madison. As refugee patients and their families arrived at our doors, our teams coordinated a baby supplies donation drive to provide families with diapers, formula, and personal care products. At the same time, we identified a gap: the meals we serve to patients and family members did not address the refugees’ dietary and nutrition needs in a culturally appropriate way.

Shekeba Samadzada & Dan Hess with their dish

To close this gap, our teams worked closely with family members, interpreters, and staff from our diversity, equity, and inclusion department to identify foods that would meet the needs of this patient population. Sous chefs Dan Hess and Zach Kollmansberger wrote a culturally appropriate, vegetarian-forward menu.

Culinary cook Shekeba Samadzada, who was born in Afghanistan and came to Madison as a refugee in her teens with her infant daughter, provided a recipe for Afghan-style vegetable korma. This is a plant-based stew featuring garbanzo beans, peppers, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, green beans, turmeric, and coriander.

We now serve vegetable korma with basmati rice and naan bread to refugee patients and family members and also feature it in our retail food venue, Four Lakes Café.

“I was happy to make the food,” Samadzada says. “I love helping.”

Preparing the korma and helping other refugees is almost like coming full circle from when Samadzada, herself, was a young Afghan refugee.

In addition to our staff’s contributions, we must give credit to and show appreciation for our local farmers. One farm is located only 38 minutes from our receiving dock. We have long-standing relationships with Becker Family Farms in Lodi and Keewaydin Farms in Viola. Both Wisconsin family farms provide us with peppers, potatoes, green beans, and tomatoes.

Being a refugee with a sick child in an unknown country can feel devastating. Our team is committed to helping by providing nourishing, culturally appropriate food for these patients and their families.

How did you feature your recipe?

In the week leading up to serving the vegetable korma, we shared in daily staff huddles, encouraging staff to eat something new. We didn’t focus on the fact that this dish does not contain meat. We highlighted that it’s a dish we serve to Afghan refugee patients and their families and that it’s made from one of our cooks’ recipes with locally-sourced produce. We posted on Facebook and Instagram to generate excitement for the korma and the culinary contest. Several of us emailed friends and coworkers in our buildings, inviting them to lunch and to try a new, plant-forward dish.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, we have tried to bring fun, new flavors to our customers’ days. Offering a new, nourishing dish with exceptional flavor was well-received. Customers who ate the korma have been emailing and asking when we’ll be serving it again.

We are adding this dish into our menu rotation at our farm-to-table station. Our team is excited to be offering a new dish. Not only is it plant-forward and healthful, but it was also created to address a gap that existed for our patients and their families, and it highlights local farmers and the dedication they have to their craft.

Closing thoughts

UW Health sits in the heart of the Midwest where dinners often feature meat and potatoes. In 2016, we made the conscious decision to serve more plant-forward options. We’re always encouraged when customers eat more plants.

Customers said this after eating the vegetable korma, “It’s so delicious. When are you serving it again?” and “I’m a meat-eater, but this dish has so much flavor, I don’t miss the meat.”

Culinary services was overwhelmed by the number of customers that chose to eat plant-forward and meat-free.

“We thought we prepared enough to serve the korma until at least 1:00 p.m., but customers kept us busy, and by 12:15 p.m., we had served all that we prepared,” said Hess.

Join us to celebrate the culinary contest winner and so much more this May in Kansas City at CleanMed.

Share this story — and your own culinary stories — on social media. Don’t forget to tag Health Care Without Harm on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram, so we can amplify your voice as well.

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Health Care Without Harm seeks to transform health care worldwide so the sector reduces its environmental footprint and becomes a leader in the global movement.