Hospital Chefs’ Indian-Inspired Menu Wins Annual Cooking Challenge

Winning chefs Patricia Sobel (center) of Northern Westchester does a last-minute check with her teammates about her entrée with Russel Ficke, Syosset Hospital; and Janisa Freysinet, North Shore University Hospital.
Winning chefs Patricia Sobel (center) of Northern Westchester does a last-minute check with her teammates about her entrée with Russel Ficke, Syosset Hospital; and Janisa Freysinet, North Shore University Hospital.

In a pressure cooker competition, three hospital chefs with more than 50 years of combined culinary experience, impressed judges at Northwell Health’s Fifth Annual Ultimate Healthy Cooking Challenge to win the top prize for their original India-inspired, three-course menu. Culinary masters from 15 hospitals around the New York metropolitan area competed in the contest held at Glen Cove Hospital, proving they can serve up scrumptious, restaurant-quality meals but without the added high fat, calories or sodium.

The winning chef team: Janisa Freysinet, North Shore University Hospital; Patricia Sobel, Northern Westchester Hospital; and Russell Ficke, Syosset Hospital had never professionally cooked together. Their three delicious and eye-pleasing dishes took the top honor for this menu: “Gobi Dumplings,” “Cauliflower Steak Chana Masala” and “Pineapple, Peaches and Meringues.”

Five culinary teams of three chefs from different hospitals faced off at Glen Cove’s Pratt Auditorium, which was transformed into a giant kitchen equipped with electric burners, a pantry and a plentiful farmers’ market for the cooking contest. Each team had 60 minutes to create tasty, attractive and nutritious meals for the three judges to score, and one for the presentation table. Hospital culinary teams were paired with registered dietitians and interns from North Health hospitals to ensure that the three-course meal must be equal or less than 700 calories, 15 grams of fat and 750 milligrams of sodium. Teams were given a “surprise protein,” such as halibut, shrimp, chicken andfilet mignon, or had the option of selecting a vegetarian protein around which to build their original three-course meal.

“The Ultimate Chef Challenge highlights how our chefs are able to inspire delicious and nutritious meals, not only for our patients but for ourselves,” said Robert E. Graham, MD, director of integrative health & wellness at Northwell Health and one of the competition’s judges. “We are investing in a culture of health and wellness in order to maintain a healthy work place and workforce, and it starts with food,” he said, adding “improving our hospital food is good medicine.”

For the first time, Sven Gierlinger, vice president and chief experience officer at Northwell Health, served as a judge for the cooking challenge. With an extensive background in the hospitality industry and a state-certified chef in Bavaria, Germany, Gierlinger said, “In this competition, the two most important components of cooking—joy and health—come together.” In the hospital, he said, “patients look forward to meals; it’s a safe time, a time to get more than nourishment but also to provide innovative recipes that will enhance the patient experience.”

Asian potstickers
Asian potstickers

The event also welcomed back competition judge Todd Daigneanult, an executive chef at Overlook Medical Center in NJ.

In addition to the winning chef team, judges recognized first place winners in each course and the vegetarian category:

• First course: Frank Imbrosciano, Huntington Hospital; “Vegetarian Asian Potsticker”
• Second course: Patrick Beirne, Southside Hospital; “Pan Seared Curried Tuna”
• Third course: Russell Ficke, Syosset Hospital; “Pineapple, Peaches and Meringues”
• Vegetarian: Patricia Sobel, Northern Westchester Hospital; “Cauliflower Steak Chana Masala”

“Health system chefs and staff create over eight million meals annually for patients, staff and visitors, which is quite a feat,” said Michael Kiley, director of nutrition and food services at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, who organized the cook-off and served as the event’s emcee. In this competition, chefs can focus their creative talents on an original three-course meal, demonstrating that they can prepare appealing food that tastes delicious and is healthy.”

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