Thursday, January 29, 2009

Mich. hospital's Rx for ill economy: New culinary slant

In Michigan, where unemployment has already topped 10%, chefs, culinary educators and a hospital are collaborating on a project the Obama Administration should unabashedly steal and duplicate. It creates jobs, bolsters health, provides a new career path for displaced blue-collar workers, and meets a demand that will undoubtedly soar as the Baby Boomers age. They’ve started the first culinary school that’s devoted to teaching students how to prepare healthy hospital fare.

This is no Birkenstock & Yogurt U. The center is an initiative of the Detroit area’s new Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, which functions in part on the principle that food is essential to health. Left unasked is the question, Why doesn’t it get more attention from the healthcare industry?

The center, which is slated to open in March, will reportedly take such steps as providing healthy cooking classes to patients, with demos provided by chefs. The foodservice will be provided by local but nationally renowned restaurateur Matt Prentice. When I interviewed Prentice last year for a Nation’s Restaurant News story, he explained that he felt obliged to do something about healthcare feeding after a teenaged daughter was hospitalized. The food, he stressed, was abysmal.

Prentice told The Detroit News that his patient, staff and visitor feeding operations will feature organic and natural fare, without a fryer in the facility. He also noted that halal, kosher, gluten-free and vegetarian meals will be readily offered.

The News story notes that a culinary school, run in cooperation with Schoolcraft College in nearby Livonia, will be part of the 80-acre complex. “This will bring additional revenue to the area as students from across the country will come to spend a week learning about this new industry of healthy hospital food,” Gerard van Grinsven, the Ritz-Carlton Hotels alumnus who serves as Henry Ford CEO, told the News.

Other culinary schools might disagree, noting that their courses provided the know-how to provide healthy hospital fare. Many could likely cite alumni who now work in healthcare feeding.

But the Ford program may be the only one that focuses not only on hospital fare, but healthy hospital food.

And it’s certainly the only one that was conceived in part to help Michigan’s beat-down economy, where conditions have been recessionary since long before Washington, D.C., started thinking about bail-out packages.

It may be a much-needed bright spot in an otherwise grim situation.

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