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Hospital Chef - Commercial Chefs

The new trend? Hospitals as culinary training ground.

"A lot of chefs are going toward hospitals. It's just a better environment," said Kenny Wagoner, executive chef at Tulsa's Cancer Treatment Centers of America.

In the coming months, some of the top chef students in the country from one of the oldest and most established schools, the Culinary Institute of America in New York, will be studying under Wagoner's tutelage.

"I spent much of my time in hotels. But hospitals are just phenomenal, both career wise and culinary-wise. We definitely deliver a better product," he said.

The culinary institute has designated the cancer center in Tulsa as one of three hospitals in the country that will host its students during their final 16-week internships.

The other two hospitals are Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York City and Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus.

"Hospitals now realize that people have a choice as to where they go for medical care. Food is very personal," Wagoner said.

The old cliche about a hospital diet of bland meat and Jell-O is not what Wagoner has in mind.

"Those days are gone. It takes someone with culinary experience," he said.

Cancer Treatment Centers of America is known for its gourmet, chef-prepared meals from organic ingredients and healthy, sugar-free pastries.

Even patients who no longer are in treatment come back to eat at the center's cafe.

Tulsan Ron Gibbons, 55, diagnosed with late-stage throat cancer in 2005, is one of those patients.

After a lengthy struggle with the disease including a year and nine months where he was unable to eat by mouth Gibbons now is a fixture at the center's dining room.

"The food is so healthy, and I still have contact with so many patients," he said. "It's good. They do a good job with the food out there."

What culinary students will learn at Cancer Treatment Centers of America is just how critical nutrition is for people undergoing cancer treatment.

"Specific foods and nutrients are important for the immune system. We want to boost the immune system and reduce the side effects from therapy," said Kalli Campbell, the center's nutrition manager.

No two cancers are alike in the way they are treated or in the nutrition plan developed for the patient, she said.

"Thirty-five percent of all cancers could be prevented by diet alone," Campbell said.

Dr. Ross Taylor, a gastroenterologist at the center, said nutrition is paramount in healing.

"It is especially true when battling something as serious as cancer," he said.

Taylor said research has shown that 45 percent to 70 percent of cancer patients die from nutritional complications rather than the cancer itself.

Cancer is a signal an individual's immune system is deficient to begin with, and treatment further lowers an individual's immune response, he said.

Without proper nutrition to boost that response, the individual is set up for an infection the body cannot fight, Taylor said.

"Cancer patients who get treatment frequently will tell you they don't have an appetite," he said.

It is Wagoner's job to make sure the food he serves not only provides the necessary nutritional value, but is tasty.

"We use organic products as much as possible and try to cater to the patients. The chicken and beef are all natural, with no hormones or steroids. It's costly, but it is a better product."

Wagoner said the culinary students will learn how closely he works with the nutrition and metabolic support departments to ensure the food patients eat complements their cancer treatment.

"It is exciting. They (the culinary institute) are very particular about whom they send their students out to," he said. "And it is very valuable for culinarians to grow within our company. It just makes sense to try to use them as a labor pool."

Surviving cancer and preventing its recurrence

(Based on studies regarding associations between diet and various cancers)

Lung cancer

Eating more than five servings per day of fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of lung cancer.

Taking beta-carotene supplements may increase the risk of lung cancer in male smokers.

Prostate cancer

Diets high in saturated fat and meat or animal fat may increase the risk of advanced prostate cancer.

Taking daily vitamin E supplements may reduce the risk of death from prostate cancer.

Taking daily beta-carotene supplements may reduce the chance of dying from prostate cancer. Taking beta-carotene supplements is not advised for smokers, however, as it may increase their risk of developing prostate cancer.

Breast cancer

High-calorie, high-fat diets may increase the risk of recurrence.

Drinking beer may increase the risk of recurrence and death.

Obesity (having too much body fat) may increase the risk of recurrence.

Lack of physical activity may increase the risk of recurrence.

Taking vitamin C above the recommended dietary allowance may reduce the risk of recurrence.

A diet high in vegetables and fruits may reduce the risk of recurrence.

A diet rich in foods that contain beta-carotene (such as dark orange vegetables and fruits) may reduce the risk of death from breast cancer.

(The effect of soy on breast cancer or breast cancer recurrence is unknown. Studies are under way.)

Colon cancer

A long-term diet rich in whole grains may reduce the risk of colon cancer.

Esophageal and gastric (stomach) cancer

A diet rich in cereal fiber may reduce the risk of gastric cancer.

Taking daily supplements of vitamins C and E and beta-carotene may reduce the risk of esophageal cancer.

Source: National Cancer Institute

Reducing cancer risk

The American Cancer Society and the American Institute for Cancer Research both have developed cancer prevention guidelines that are similar.

The following diet and fitness guidelines may help reduce the risk of cancer:

Eat a plant-based diet. Eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables daily. Include beans in the diet and eat grain products (such as cereals, breads, and pasta) several times daily.

Choose foods low in fat.

Choose foods low in salt.

Get to and stay at a healthy weight.

Be at least moderately active for 30 minutes on most days of the week.

Limit alcoholic drinks.

Prepare and store food safely.

Do not use tobacco in any form.

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