May 19 – “I’ve always loved America because it’s the melting pot,” said Hannah Alvarez, a native of Cambridge, England and Senior Chef at Sodexo at ProMedica Health System.
Your nutritional services staff at ProMedica Toledo Hospital are even a multinational, multicultural mix of their own.
“We have really different employees,” she said, whether they are immigrants like herself or those with “really, really strong legacies” whose families have been here for a generation or more.
For this reason, a new program has been created to celebrate the workers and their diversity: the melting pot, where every Wednesday during lunch, the kitchen of a different employee is offered in the kitchen / cafeteria.
As with other operations in the hospitality industry, there has been a shortage of staff at Nutrition Services in recent months. Ms. Alvarez has found that she and her staff cook more every day.
As colleagues worked together in the kitchen, she noticed observations being made about some of the food being prepared: one person might ask a question about a dish, or another would mention that they ate something similar at home years ago. For example, a discussion of tamales led to a comparison of the Mexican, made with a filling of soft masa wrapped in corn husks, and those popular in the deep south, made with coarsely ground cornmeal and steamed in foil.
They started comparing recipes and traditions and “Conversations were stimulated,” said Ms. Alvarez. It reminded them of family members “gathering in the kitchen” while they ate, talked, and shared dinner, and connected while they worked.
A spark was lit for the crucible, and when the staff started planning menus, “there was this amazing pride they had,” Ms. Alvarez said with great fondness. “You are so proud,” she said, so that she could tell her stories through her food.
The story goes on
To lead the program and connect with Cinco de Mayo on May 5th, Febe Yapragigur celebrated her Mexican heritage with a very traditional dish: the albondigas (meatball soup) that her mother prepared every second Sunday after visiting the family’s church. She rounded off her menu with well-known favorites: chicken tostadas with cotija cheese and her mother’s salsa, eloten (street corn), Mexican rice and freshly made beans.
Ms. Yapragigur’s parents emigrated from Mexico in 1974 – her father Moises is from San Jose Lianetes and her mother Monserrat is from Ciudad Cuauhtemoc. To prepare her menu, “she went back to her mother,” said Ms. Alvarez, to discuss recipes and, more importantly, relive memories.
“I think one of the coolest things about putting the crucible together with her staff, said Ms. Alvarez,” was hearing their stories about their parents and the memories of the food they wanted to present. “
The next week it was Mary Grace Smith, who works on the room service prep line and originally from General Santos City, Philippines, in honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month at Melting Pot Station. She came to the USA in 2007 as one of nine children and found her way to Toledo via Colorado.
Ms. Smith’s favorite childhood dish was beef mechado – meat braised in soy sauce and calamansi juice (similar to lime), with vegetables and potatoes – so of course she served that. She also offered pork adobo, a sweet and sour dish cooked in garlic and vinegar. Both dishes were served over white rice, and lumpia (Filipino spring rolls) completed the menu.
The nine-person Melting Pot team also includes Christy Knappins, who serves Polish food, and Sabah Kashen, who presents Lebanese cuisine. Angel Witcher, whose cuisine has “a strong southern influence,” said Ms. Alvarez, will serve her chosen dishes on June 2 to kick off National Soul Food Month.
Ireland and Germany will also be featured, with even more Nutrition Services staff deciding what to cook and share.
Ms. Alvarez may also have her turn to serve her traditional foods but said she wanted to introduce her staff first.
“I’m pretty British [with] a bit of Wales and Ireland, “she remarked. The first dish that came to mind was the classic pub fish and chips, but she’s still considering her options.
The Melting Pot dishes are available in the ProMedica Toledo Hospital cafeteria for staff, outpatients, and anyone who may be on site to make appointments or visit inpatients. It is not part of the room service menu. and unfortunately, due to the continued coronavirus logs, members of the public cannot just stop by for lunch to sample the delicious dishes.
Those who work in Nutrition Services have been on the forefront in their own way during the pandemic, continuing to care for patients, caregivers, and healthcare workers in incredibly stressful conditions. You were behind the scenes and these unsung – and usually invisible – heroes “had a rough year,” said Ms. Alvarez.
“It’s really scary for her,” she continued after working in a medical facility during such an intense global health crisis. “We were scared, but we got our way,” she said, and they “developed a new respect for one another. We cried together” over personal losses, and they bonded like an extended family.
“I’m very proud of her,” said the Chef, and the weekly Melting Pot feature “is a really nice way to put her in the spotlight.”
Ms. Alvarez said that “it was a really cool journey, this project – super emotional and enlightening” for herself and her staff.
“I have the feeling that because of that we are closer.”