Executive Chefs Win 2019 Association for Healthcare Food Service’s 10th Annual Culinary Competition

MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE – During September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is highlighting the special role food plays in the healing process for childhood cancer patients and families.  St. Jude is committed to using locally sourced and sustainably harvested food whenever possible so patients and families can be sure the chefs know where the food they are eating comes from and how it was harvested. 

St. Jude was also one of the first hospitals in the United States to create a garden dedicated to growing vegetables and herbs used by chefs to create nutrient-dense meals for patients and families.  The St. Jude Garden of Eatin’ produces roughly 5,000 pounds of produce a year. 

Due to advancements in care and treatment, such as the growing understanding of healing through food, childhood cancer patients in the United States have nearly an 80 percent overall survival rate today, compared to the near-death sentence such a diagnosis carried 50 years ago.  St. Jude has produced a four-minute video titled, “Healing Through Food” providing an overview of the special role food plays in the healing process. 

St. Jude Co-Executive Chefs Richard Farmer and Michael Vetro were recently awarded the renowned gold medal at the 2019 Association for Healthcare Food Service’s 10th Annual Culinary Competition in Scottsdale, AZ.  St. Jude’s executive chef team prepared an original recipe featuring a mushroom tamale with chipotle pork-jicama slaw, red mole’ and garden guacamole.

“Our mission is to always cook with healing in mind.  For us it comes down to satisfaction and emotional well-being.  If you eat a delicious meal, you’re going to smile, gain energy from it and feel satisfied for the day.  We always want to give the absolute best food we can possibly give,” said Michael Vetro, Executive Chef, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. 

“It’s not unusual for a child to not feel like eating, due to different treatments.  Then it becomes our mission as chefs to really step up and accomplish the most important thing that we do, which is to take care of our patients and the families of those patients,” said Rick Farmer, Executive Chef, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

The foods prepared by St. Jude chefs provide nutrition and tastes of home to help produce fuel for the mind and body to take on the next challenge associated with treatments.  In addition to fueling the 5,000 St. Jude doctors, nurses, researchers and support staff, St. Jude chefs also prepare meals for patients with “off-the-menu,” specialized requests.  If a patient or family member makes a specialized request for food from home, St. Jude chefs never say no. 

One example is when a patient from South Korea had gone nearly seven days without eating or liking any of the food choices. St. Jude Executive Chef Rick Farmer took the time to meet with the boy’s mother, who suggested a black, silky chicken stew. The main ingredient in the stew was a chicken that, true to its name had black flesh, bones and skin. Chef Farmer was able to locate all of the ingredients, as well as the special earthen crock-pot that was needed in order to properly cook the dish. It was prepared and the patient ate it several times, suggesting at one point that the chefs should “make that for every child at St. Jude to make them feel better.”