Chef For a Day

By: Meredith Murdock

Making a meal for yourself is toilsome. Between the planning, preparation and cooking, there is a lot of time and thought that goes into the process. It can be exhausting! Have you ever thought about what it would be like to plan a meal for 100? During the last week at my food service rotation with Ascension Saint Agnes Hospital, my partner, Jen, and I had the opportunity to choose and plan our own meal to serve in the retail cafeteria. Through this experience I learned a lot about the importance of planning and being time efficient. I also gained an immense amount of appreciation for all the staff. 

Our first step was to figure out what dishes we wanted to serve. Our selections were based on seasonal foods, both rich in flavor and with high nutritional value. We knew we wanted to combine a soup and salad of some sort because of its comfort and warmth going into the fall season. Additionally, Jen and I decided to add a less popular green choice, kale, into our menu to introduce and educate consumers on the health benefits. We saw a need to emphasize the proper way to massage the kale before serving; a step that is crucial in loosening the fibers to produce a softer texture and less bitter flavor. Therefore, our final menu consisted of a chicken pesto panini, butternut squash soup and a fall harvest apple kale salad. 

Jen and I then needed to scale each recipe and determine how much of each ingredient we would need in order to serve 100 people. Between estimating the amounts and ordering the food through Saint Agnes’s online system, this was definitely one of the harder tasks we came upon. We needed enough ingredients, correctly estimated, plus extra in case. The day before we served our meal, we prepped our ingredients; we cooked the chicken, cut produce and made the salad dressing. The morning of our big day, we came in an hour earlier than usual. This ended up being the most crucial hour in all of our prepping and planning. This was when we added the last few spices to our soup, set up our exhibition station display, and stored extra ingredients for refills. 

Planning and cooking in bulk is not easy, as we learned very quickly. However, with the help from all the staff and chefs, we successfully made and served about 75 people that day. We have so much admiration for those that work in the kitchen for hours preparing, planning and cooking both patient meals and cafeteria meals for the staff and visitors to the hospital. Jen and I also reflected on how many potential consumers glanced at our menu and quickly decided it was too healthy because of its incorporation of kale and butternut squash. I spoke with one woman who initially was hesitant, but decided to try it; she loved it so much she asked for the recipe so she could make it at home. This positive feedback among others was exciting to receive and makes me feel more inclined to introduce other vegetables that aren’t as wildly popular in the future. I hope this encourages the customers to use vegetables such as kale and butternut squash in their future cooking as well as being flexible to trying a new ingredient or meal. 

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