The Future of Healthcare Foodservice: A Conversation with Chef Marta Hernandez, HHS VP of Culinary Operations
Posted on November 09, 2016
As Vice President of Culinary Operations with nearly two decades of culinary experience behind her, Chef Marta Hernandez has high hopes for the future of foodservice within the healthcare space.
“I feel really strongly that we need to reverse folks’ perceptions of healthcare foodservice,” says Hernandez. “Even with all the advancements and new companies coming into the space, there are still a lot of naysayers out there, and a lot of folks that still see healthcare foodservice as ‘garbage dining.’”
“Before I was in the food business I was in the retail business,” Hernandez explains, “So I did a lot of gourmet, Whole Foods type of supermarkets, which influenced my approach to foodservice from the very beginning.”
Hernandez says she hopes to bring some of the elements from her high-end foodservice background into the healthcare arena.
“I think there needs to be a laser focus on the quality of food we’re delivering to patients,” she says.
“We need to focus on fresh ingredients; even public schools are moving in this direction. But healthcare for some reason remains behind, when, really, healthcare should be leading that charge.”
“People that are in healthcare settings are there because they are ill,” Hernandez explains, “So it’s imperative that the dining and nutrition options meet their needs — providing nourishment and promoting healing, while also tasting great.”
“Patients aren’t happy to be in hospitals, typically, and food is really the only thing they can control,” says Hernandez. “Food should really be the bright spot in the patient’s day.”
Chef Hernandez says that she’d like to see patient menus be more seasonal and less repetitive.
“Some hospitals maintain the exact same patient menus month after month, year after year, which doesn’t make sense, simply because not all ingredients are in season all year,” she explains. “While patients come and go and may not be as aware of the stagnant menus, the monotony and lack of fresh options can take a negative toll on hospital staff and caregivers.”
“Offering a place of relaxation and respect to the caregiver is so important,” Hernandez says. “They are under a tremendous amount of pressure, and it’s incredibly important that those caregivers are able to enjoy healthful meals that will help them recharge and feel nourished and cared for, too.”
“At HHS Culinary, we believe that menus should change with the seasons in order to maximize seasonable items and ensure freshness as well as variety.”
Hernandez says that she believes food has the power to help foster community, and that hospitals and healthcare facilities have the potential to really promote that.
“I just came from one of our accounts in Alabama, a community hospital,” Hernandez recounts, “And every day there is a group of about 18 retirees from the community who come together for lunch at the hospital. They’re there Monday through Friday, and then again for lunch after church on Sunday.”
“They said that the hospital cafeteria provides the best and most affordable meals in town,” she continues. “I’ve seen this again and again at our hospitals, and it’s such a great testament to the work that we’re doing. Not to mention, it’s great for morale within the hospital, and helps to promote not only our relationship with that hospital, but also the hospital’s relationship with the larger community.”
As to her goals for the future, Hernandez says she would like to see HHS “build on our existing platforms and internal communications and continue to shine a light on the great work done by our team members from all service lines and diversifications.”
One of the ways she promotes this goal today is by encouraging her teams to host a monthly ‘family meal’ for all HHS team members at their facility, regardless of the service line they work for, in order to help “foster that sense of partnership and community among our own teams and in turn provide an ever better and cohesive experience for our hospital partners.”
“The closer we are as an organization,” Hernandez asserts, “The better job we can do when we partner with a new hospital to create a seamless experience for that patient, client and customer.”
Marta Hernandez brings to the table 16 years of culinary expertise and a decade of experience in retail and merchandising. Beginning her career as a sous chef for a gourmet supermarket, Hernandez held positions as a Food Services Director and Corporate Chef for various foodservice companies before coming to HHS. She attended the Culinary Institute of America and Johnson and Wales University, and studied business at Rutgers.
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