Meet the top 5 Health Care Culinary Contest finalists

Health Care Without Harm
10 min readApr 18, 2023

Chefs share their recipes & stories behind them before winner is announced at CleanMed

Every year, Health Care Without Harm partners with the Culinary Institute of America’s Menus of Change program and Johnson & Wales University to host the Health Care Culinary Contest. In 2022, the contest’s fifth year, 24 hospital chefs from around the country submitted their plant-forward recipes, aiming to be named America’s hospital chef of the year.

After two rounds of judging, five finalists were selected to enter the final round, where students from Johnson & Wales University’s culinary program will prepare each dish, and a panel of judges will taste and score the recipes.

This year, the contest saw its first-ever plant-based protein bar and its first competitor from a public health care system.

Contestants drew from their cultural backgrounds to create dishes like a butternut squash burrito bowl and a lentil dish topped with a sweet and crunchy cauliflower, which was a take on the traditional honey walnut shrimp. A plant-forward sancocho brought a classic Latin American comfort food to hospital diners, while garam masala and coconut milk elevated a stuffed squash dish.

We will announce the winner and serve the winning dish at CleanMed, the premier national conference for leaders in health care sustainability, May 23–25 in Pittsburgh. The winner will also be honored at the Menus of Change Summit, June 21–22 in Hyde Park, New York.

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

  • City of Hope Medical Center’s butternut squash burrito bowl
  • Mass General Brigham Salem Hospital’s lemon blueberry graham beet bar
  • NYC Health + Hospitals’ sancocho
  • Scripps Health’s curried vegetable and barley stuffed acorn squash
  • Stanford Health Care’s spicy lentils with honey walnut cauliflower

City of Hope Medical Center’s butternut squash burrito bowl

Butternut squash burrito bowl on a white plate
Zesty tomatillo salsa and creamy cashew crema provide the base for this fresh and satisfying bowl.

“I am inspired to offer dishes with the same or even more flavors that are complex, delicious, and comforting in a healthier way.”

— Chef Karent Figueroa

Hospital

City of Hope Medical Center in Duarte, California

Chef

Chef Karent Figueroa

Meet the chef

Figueroa grew up in Mexicali, Mexico, with a family background in traditional Mexican cuisine. She is a first-generation culinary professional who is passionate about having a career filled with opportunities to positively impact people’s lives and nutrition. Figueroa has provided excellent leadership for several years in the hospital’s food service department on how to cook nutritious and delicious food, working alongside her team to implement healthy meals that satisfy the body and soul for the hospital’s patients, guests, and staff.

What is the story of your recipe?

The service area around City of Hope’s campus is 45% Latino. We created the butternut squash burrito bowl to disrupt the stereotype that Latino food is fried, heavy in red meat, or high in simple carbohydrates. Showcasing plant-based food that has 10–14 grams of protein per portion, this recipe is my statement that plant-based dishes can be interesting and homey. My favorite toppings are beans and salsa. What Mexican person doesn’t like beans and salsa? All the produce in this recipe is organic, and there’s less packaging waste when using whole foods like this recipe does. The butternut squash burrito bowl is one of the prides of our food service program.

How did you feature your recipe?

This recipe is featured at the exhibition station of the City Café, which sees 1,300 customers per day. It is highlighted digitally on the weekly City Café menu, which is posted on the intranet homepage and on menu screens throughout the City Café. Offering plant-forward dishes is part of our food service department’s brand that’s lived every day. City of Hope also posted it on its Facebook and Instagram accounts.

Closing thoughts

The City of Hope way is to think as if the customer is our own family member with cancer. Plant-forward recipes that promote health and well-being are the heart of the operation. In the future, my goal is to promote more whole grain meals since they are linked to positive health results.

Mass General Brigham Salem Hospital’s lemon blueberry graham beet bar

One half of a brown energy bar broken off and lies against the rest of the bar on a white background
Chewy and earthy with a satisfying bite, these bars are packed with protein.

“I love working in a hospital because you get the best of both worlds — you can be so creative in retail spaces, fueling staff and visitors, but also provide comfort and vital nutrition to patients.”

— Chef Brian Mckeon-Millard

Hospital

Mass General Brigham Salem Hospital in Salem, Massachusetts

Chef

Chef Brian Mckeon-Millard

Meet the chef

With a career that now spans over 37 years, Mckeon-Millard first started in the food industry at 13 years old. He aspired to be a fine artist, but he worked in food to pay the bills while in school. Working in kitchens, he quickly learned he loved the adrenaline rush, the grind, the elation of victory after a busy night, and the lasting bonds made with coworkers. He found it also unexpectedly satisfied his creative side, and he feels that nothing beats the feeling of making someone happy with food.

What is the story of your recipe?

I am a huge protein bar guy and am always eating on the run. I grew tired of all the processed, sugary bars on the market and wanted something healthier. It all started in my home kitchen, blending flavors into a fruit and nut base infused with fresh beet powder. Soon after, I was sharing with friends and family members, who suggested we share with our community. I was thrilled to enter the contest and share these bars with others. We had a good time with our sample table at the hospital, as we let customers decide between bars of two different flavors, voting for which one we would enter into the contest. It was an exciting showdown, and in the end, lemon blueberry graham stole the show. They showcased yellow beets sourced locally from Ward’s Berry Farm in Sharon, Massachusetts. I am so proud to incorporate local beets into these bars. With all the positive feedback we received, we started selling the bars in our retail café.

How did you feature your recipe?

We announced the tasting event at our monthly safety meeting with hospital leadership and board members, and we also posted on the hospital bulletin board. We posted ample signage in our retail café days before the tasting event. We also posted on LinkedIn and on our company’s Microsoft Teams site.

Closing thoughts

As a vegetarian, I have pushed for more plant-based recipes in our hospital and always try to help educate staff and customers on new trends. I also received a health coaching certificate from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition to help bolster my understanding of healthy living through food and lifestyle. My current goal for our department is to commit to the Cool Food Pledge and offer at least 25% vegetarian options in our retail and patient lines to promote healthy food choices and help reduce emissions.

NYC Health + Hospitals’ sancocho

White rice and a hearty stew in a white bowl against a dark background
Hearty and satisfying, this stew is the definition of comfort food.

“Preparing this dish warms my heart knowing the individuals we serve consider this comfort food they have grown up with.”

— Chef Philip DeMaiolo

Hospital

NYC Health + Hospitals in New York, New York

Chef

Chef Philip DeMaiolo

Meet the chef

DeMaiolo started working in various kitchens at age 16. At 24, he was executive chef at Novotel Hotel in New York City. He furthered his culinary training by attending the Hotel-Restaurant School at New York City Technical College and by training in France. Outside the kitchen, he is involved in various culinary organizations and was a founding member of the American Culinary Federation’s Long Island chapter. DeMaiolo has been honored with awards from culinary organizations and has been featured on several television programs, including the Food Network’s “Behind the Bash.”

What is the story of your recipe?

Sancocho is a traditional Latin root vegetable stew made with indigenous ingredients such as plantains and yucca. The stew is seasoned with a sofrito, which is an aromatic unique to Latin culture. This dish represents the beautifully diverse communities we serve in the boroughs of New York City. For the individuals we serve, it means comfort. It’s a meal they can recognize. And now, they realize there’s a way to prepare it as a healthier option at home. It represents the farmers of our community members’ homelands, and it shows our intent to support farmers in regions that need financial support. This dish was inspired by a desire to serve our communities familiar food that is recognizable and comforting and to help them gain the nutritional value needed to heal. And it’s sustainable — the main ingredients are root vegetables, which leaves minimal waste in application.

How did you feature your recipe?

We hosted a special road show of this dish and other delicious, plant-based dishes we were launching. Executives, nurses, patients, and families all got to try, and they loved it. We also had special cards with photos created, which explained the cultural significance of the dish and how it was a delicious and nutritious menu option. These were placed on patient trays and displayed in our retail location.

Scripps Health’s curried vegetable and barley stuffed acorn squash

Curried vegetable and barley stuffed acorn squash adorned with green garnish and pink orchids against a white backdrop
The dish starts with curry, garam masala, and coconut milk as its flavor foundation and is elevated with aromatics like ginger, garlic, onions, and carrots. Caramelized pecans, slivered almonds, and dried cranberries provide great texture.

“Being that one of Scripps’ main goals is sustainability, the fact that we use plant-based ingredients grown locally to produce this dish really encapsulates the overall idea we wanted to stand for when adding this item to our menu.”

— Chef Fri Reyes

Hospital

Scripps Health in San Diego, California

Chef

Chef Fri Reyes

What is the story of your recipe?

When coming up with this dish, I wanted something with texture and depth of flavor that was aesthetically pleasing. Coming from a southeast Asian background, I wanted it to encompass familiar flavors while still being widely accepted. With the sweetness of the dried cranberries and coconut milk, the healthy grains, and the built-in serving vessel of an acorn squash, I think the dish becomes one that is memorable and easy to eat. The main ingredient, acorn squash, is currently seasonal and is zero waste as it uses the whole product — skin and all. Presenting well on a slide or a plate, it is both fine dining and café ready. It is a versatile dish that meets the needs of the modern-day institutional food service.

How did you feature your recipe?

We posted the recipe on our intranet, featured it as one of our weekly healthy offerings at our cafés, and featured it in a monthly healthy cooking video series we produce for our staff.

Closing thoughts

We wanted to give our customers the option of eating vegetarian without using a regular vegetarian option like tofu, tempeh, or textured soy protein. By using whole grain and adding different flavors with common textures, I think we have met the needs of the current market, which has a more refined palate but still longs for familiar flavors. The dish meets the needs of not only the eater, but also the people that produce and sell it — a true menu star.

Stanford Health Care’s spicy lentils with honey walnut cauliflower

Warm, earthy lentils with a spicy kick provide the foundation for crispy cauliflower coated in a creamy yogurt sauce and topped with crunchy walnuts.

“This dish is ‘full circle’ for me, inspired by my mom and her creative use of leftovers. It tastes like home.”

— Chef Joseph Moreno

Hospital

Stanford Health Care in Stanford, California

Chef

Chef Joseph Moreno

Meet the chef

With his parents working overnight shifts, Moreno came to cooking early. He cooked for his siblings and then as a young prep cook at a yacht club. He decided to build on his skills through education and graduated from the California Culinary Academy with an associate’s degree in culinary arts. Moreno began his health care career with Sutter Health as a line cook for patient dining. He ultimately found his way to Stanford Health Care as a line cook for the hospital cafeteria before moving into his current role as production supervisor. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his four children and granddaughter.

What is the story of your recipe?

The contest inspired me to create a nutritious and affordable dish as a response to the difficult financial times that many of us are navigating. In our household, we typically had leftover rice, and the easiest way to utilize this ingredient was to make fried rice. After researching the impact of growing rice on the environment, I decided to experiment with lentils. Growing lentils adds nitrogen to and stores carbon in the soil, and withstands drought. Nutritionally dense and flavorful, lentils are a perfect substitute for the rice in the dish.

There is a large Asian community in the Bay Area, and as a Filipino chef, I knew people may not understand this dish. Once people tasted it, though, the traditional flavors would be recognizable. Preparing the lentils in the style of my mother’s leftover fried rice made me think of Chinese takeout. One of my favorite things to order is honey walnut shrimp. I thought, what if we substituted the shrimp with cauliflower, a local organic crop, and replaced the mayonnaise that is typically used in this dish with yogurt? And it worked. Using these ingredients in the style of my mother’s leftover fried rice resulted in perfecting two great individual dishes, which when combined, are addictively delicious.

How did you feature your recipe?

We promoted the dish at the learning center in the cafeteria, which showcases our sustainability achievements and initiatives. We featured posters of our past plant-forward culinary contest entries and included QR codes for their respective recipes. Our dining room chef and production manager proudly offered samples of the dish, and our customers were so impressed, they purchased the full entrée from our live action platform.

Closing thoughts

This recipe was thoughtfully created to bring comfort, nourishment, and outstanding flavor to our community, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. One patient family member said, “I have never had lentils like this. It’s amazing how all these flavors blend together. It’s wonderful.” And a staff member exclaimed, “I could eat this everyday — this is so up my alley!”

The Health Care Culinary Contest is hosted by Health Care Without Harm, the Culinary Institute of America’s Menus of Change program and Johnson & Wales University.

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Health Care Without Harm

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.