Photo: Tina Larkin
Originally published in Taos News
The room service lunch menu includes grilled salmon, baked lime-encrusted tilapia and shrimp and chicken quesadillas. There are asparagus, spinach and squash, and fresh fruit meddle and cobbler for dessert.
It isn’t a fancy hotel, but the Holy Cross Hospital. These dishes, and many others, are delivered to the patients’ rooms or served at the Hospital Café, which should be called a restaurant for the quality and taste of the meals.
Meals are not only for the patients. Providers, staff and our entire community are welcomed in the well-lit and clean Café.
Joe Floch, Director of Food and Nutrition at Holy Cross Hospital, Chef Matthew Currey and the Food and Nutrition staff are in the business of cooking heart-healthy meals from scratch to aid in patient healing and the overall health of the Taos population.
“Every meal is cooked in a timely manner and, when sold at the cafeteria, dishes are offered at an extremely reasonable cost,” said Floch. The salad bar cost between three and four dollars, and entrees two or three.
“We are working hard to educate the patients and the patients’ relatives to cook and eat healthy,” said Currey.
The staff is getting an education too.
“I used to be a meat and potatoes person,” said Penny Privette, the Food and Nutrition Consult Supervisor. “But I have changed my eating habits since I started working here.”
Privette makes sure that the patients get their food cooked to order and at the time they want it. “We have conducted several surveys and people say that eating here is like dining at a restaurant,” she said.
Lunchtime is quite busy at the Café. Mondays through Thursdays, from 11: 30 am to 1:30 pm, there is an on-demand cook station, a pasta bar and fresh vegetables. On Friday they offer special dishes like five or six different types of meat—ribs and lamb among them, cooked to order.
“We don’t use processed food and nothing is deep-fried,” said Currey. “Even the French Fries are baked.”
Privette says that they come out crispy and crunchy, so people can enjoy them without the guilt.
The hospital is in the process of growing its own herb garden that will be used to supply the kitchen. In the meantime, they buy produce from Red Willow and other local farmers.
Chef Currey was hired by Holy Cross Hospital one year and a half ago to revamp the menu and make it healthier and more appealing. He has excelled at it.
Currey grew up in Colorado and attended the University of Colorado in Boulder. He lived in the island of St. Thomas where he was the Executive Chef at Hotel 1829 for 6 years and learned about Caribbean cuisine. He also worked in Flying B Ranch in Kamiah, Idaho, where he specialized in wild game, menu planning and wine selection.
“I have been lucky enough to travel around quite a bit,” he said. “Now, I can bring my experience and knowledge here.”
This is his first institutional job in a hospital and he is enjoying it.
“It’s different from working in a restaurant,” he said. “Here, we can focus on how the food we offer can help people heal. I enjoy challenging myself, trying to come up with the healthiest food choices for people, as well as food ideas that they can use outside the hospital.”
He insists on the importance of preparing food from scratch. “This way you have control of the level of sodium and the amount of butter,” he said. “Basically, you know what goes into your food.”
His favorite cooking tool is the charbroil grill. “We bought it when we got rid of the deep fryer,” he said. “We cook small batches which ensures hotter and fresher food out on the line.”
Among Chef Currey’s preferred ingredients are whole grains, quinoa, brown rice and real (non-processed) Cheddar cheese and provolone. “And fish,” he said. “We have at least ten different kinds of fish like cod, salmon and mackerel.”
Reaching out to the community
Food can be both therapeutic and preventive. “We come up with menu ideas for patients, simple, easy-to-make dishes that they can take home later.”
The Food and Nutrition staff has offered several cooking demonstration at the St. James Church Food Bank and recently attended the Wellness Expo at the Youth and Family Center.
They also work with daycare centers like Little Bug and provide healthy food for children. “They need to start eating right at an early age,” said Currey. “We need to encourage kids to drink low-fat milk and have fruit for dessert.”
This program has been a huge success with parents and teachers, who have also contributed to spread the word about the Café menus.
“Parents hear about the good lunches their kids get and start coming here to eat,” said Floch, “then they take the ideas home and also tell their friends. It’s a healthy cycle and we want to keep it going.”
Holy Cross Hospital is located at 1397 Weimer Road
Recipes by Chef Matthew
Grain and Vegetable Stuffed Baked Portabella Mushroom
Yield: 6 mushroom caps
1 cup cooked quinoa
1 cup cooked bulgur
3/4 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
12 asparagus spears, cooked, chopped
1 each, small red/green pepper, chopped
1/2 yellow onion, chopped and caramelized
1 green squash cooked, chopped
1 yellow squash cooked, chopped
1/2 cup shredded carrot
Salt & pepper to taste
Marinate mushrooms in olive oil, soy sauce and Italian seasoning and grill until fully cooked. Combine all other ingredients together and pack each mushroom with a liberal amount of stuffing mix. Place in oven at 300 degrees for 30 minutes or until cheese in stuffing mix is melting. Do not overcook, stuffing will dry out. Remove and serve immediately. This can be made gluten free by replacing the bulgur with brown rice and omitting the soy sauce.
Caribbean Lamb Stew
1 pound cubed lamb
2 cups red wine
1 tablespoon yellow curry paste
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 14 oz cans of beef broth
1 14 oz can of diced tomatoes
4 red potatoes, 1/4 inch diced
3 stalks of celery, diced
2 medium sized carrots, diced
3 Bay leaves
1 package of gravy mix
Sear lamb until cooked on all sides. Add red wine and reduce by ¾. Add all ingredients except for gravy mix and bring to a boil. Simmer, covered until the lamb is tender, about an hour and a half. Slowly add gravy mix until desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste and simmer for about 15 more minutes. Serve and enjoy.
Fresh Spinach Salad
(serves 6 dinner salads)
2 pounds fresh organic spinach
½ pound fresh organic radishes, sliced
½ pound organic Japanese turnips, quartered
1 medium fresh organic carrot, sliced
3 organic tomatoes, cut in six wedges
1 6 oz log of goat cheese
½ cup sundried cherries
½ cup toasted and crushed walnuts
¼ pound fresh tarragon
1 cup Apple cider vinegar
2 cups extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
To assemble salad, divide spinach up evenly among six plates. Top salad with vegetables, walnuts and sundried cherries. In a blender add apple cider vinegar and tarragon. Blend until smooth. Slowly add olive oil while machine is running until it begins to thicken to nectar consistency. Add salt, pepper and honey to taste. Drizzle over the top of the salad and crumble goat cheese over salad. Serve and enjoy.
8 cups frozen diced mango
2 cups apple juice
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon dried basil leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Corn starch slurry to thicken
Bring to a boil the apple juice, vinegar, mango, basil and brown sugar. Reduce to a simmer and salt and pepper to taste. Add slurry slowly and thicken to a gravy consistency. Let simmer for 15-20 minutes. Check consistency and flavor. Adjust accordingly. Serve hot or cool.