Good Medicine Chef!
4th Dec 2017
It is 6am in a so far silent arena of work, and three people are scrubbed and spotless in clothing befitting the task ahead of them. A hospital of patients depends upon them today as every day, and they are about to begin their first “operation”. This is Blackrock Clinic, but this is not a theatre of surgery. This is the kitchen, and the team is Executive Chef Cathal Kavanagh, his Breakfast Chef and Pastry Chef. The first “operation” is to prepare and serve breakfast to the hospital’s potential 281 inpatients, countless outpatients and visitors, and 839 employees. No doubt many of the 200 plus consultants and their secretaries will also require food, whether between clinics, surgeries or Emergency Department calls. The diversity of nutritional requirements is huge, before you even get to individual tastes and religious creeds. Cathal is a man on a daily mission to solve that age old conundrum, “how to please everyone”.
Cathal came to Blackrock Clinic in March 2016, leaving the field of hospitality and the luxury surrounds of Carton House hotel to follow his heart into healthcare. He had been one of a small class of seven students to graduate from the inaugural “MSc in Applied Culinary Nutrition” programme run by the Institute of Technology Tallaght. Not all students had been chefs, although the programme was designed with chefs in mind, but like Cathal, all had a keen desire to learn how to better use the “science of cooking”. Cathal explains that “nutritional knowledge is not traditional in chef’s training”. He continues “I was interested in nutrition, and the nutritional side is not as important outside of healthcare. I am better placed within healthcare.”
Key benefits of his recent studies are listed as:
- An understanding of all areas of food, from its chemical make-up to how our bodies use it, and
- An appreciation of food’s beneficial potential.
For his research topic, Cathal chose “A mindfulness-based approach to training senior chefs in strategic healthcare food provision to benefit patient care”.
This is the skill set and the vision Cathal has brought to the Blackrock Clinic kitchen. A modern approach to catering focused around the individual within the mass. When called upon, he will be found visiting the patients in their rooms to discuss the daily menu choices. He is enthusiastic about interaction with patients, advocating the crucial association between nutrition and recovery.
He also sees the importance of responding to inpatient’s emotional requests. Only recently he acquiesced to a food order for “my favourite Mc Dougal’s curry sauce”. Not perhaps in line with the “clean eating” rule book, yet an allowable comfort for this patient at a distressing time.
Cathal passes on this “good medicine” food ethos to his staff, and the kitchen produces three meal sittings a day, always with diversity of choice and with a seasonal essence. He buys smart, small, and not too far ahead, to maintain relevance and freshness. “Focused, fresh and simple” is his buying mantra. He admits to looking to the internet for inspiration, keeping abreast of healthy food concepts.
Hospital menu choices must be designed for balance, and also for diversity. Our community demands nutrition beneficial to people for whom food is part of a treatment plan. It also demands respect for allergies and food intolerances, so accurate labelling and warnings abound. In compliance with the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) EU Directive of 18th April 2004, all products containing GMO are identified and labelled, and we are also committed as far as possible to using non GMO foods.
Chef works closely with the hospital’s dietitians and “Nutrition Steering Committee” to implement and manage dietary policies and proposals. These are constantly reviewed to reflect the changing needs of our patient composition. Mirroring the national statistics, Blackrock Clinic is currently seeing a rise in weight loss surgery candidates, as reducing obesity levels is becoming a concern to patients and their doctors. A correct and complete diet education is core to the success of these patient’s treatment pathways, so this is an area under scrutiny at present. (More on weight loss surgery to follow soon.)
Cathal wants us all to be mindful of what and how we eat, so that our relationship with food is optimised. He’s not preaching, but ignoring the healthy home made “protein balls” standing proud over the more traditional cakes and biscuits, is difficult.
Perhaps one for later with a cup of tea?