The first thing you notice when you tour Ministry’s spotless, well-appointed kitchen with food service director Eric VanAlstine is you’re introduced to every single member of the department staff. “I’d like you to meet Lori, she’s been with us for 10 years,” says VanAlstine, “she’s the gatekeeper to this place and it wouldn’t run without her.” Lori laughs and talks about her favorite part of the job. “It’s definitely the people,” she says.
The 24-person kitchen crew keeps things running smoothly, supplying food to 25 hospital patients and 30 nursing home residents. But the bulk of the kitchen’s work is to feed the hundreds of staff and visitors who come through Ministry’s cafeteria each day.
“I look forward to the salad bar every Tuesday,” says Robin Hamm-Jackson of the Ministry Foundation, who often stops in the cafeteria for lunch on the days when the chefs offer fresh salad with cheeses, veggies, meats and homemade dressings. “It’s so affordable and so tasty.”
Chefs offer up freshly made soups, pasta salads, and wholesome entrees. “We’re really all about promoting a healthy lifestyle for our employees and customers,” says VanAlstine. “And of course we like to give people what they want.”
Last week, that included fresh tuna steaks with Pico de Gallo (diced vegetable salsa). “You just don’t see that kind of food in cafeterias very often,” says VanAlstine, who, along with chef Steve Wisniewski, is a graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America. “We run this kitchen like a restaurant kitchen, not an institutional one.”
VanAlstine’s commitment to quality is evident in the feedback they receive from patients and customers. Currently, nutritional services boasts 99% customer satisfaction. But that’s never enough for VanAlstine. “We’re always looking at ways to improve,” he says. “And we all contribute ideas though our daily meetings.”
Wisniewski agrees, citing the fact that kitchen employees can multi-task and pitch in to do the work of another area of the kitchen if need be. “The right hand has to know what the left hand is doing,” he says. VanAlstine and Wisniewski themselves can often be found making rounds and delivering food to patients. “It’s a great opportunity for us to ask patients how they’re enjoying their stay, and to find out if there’s anything we can be doing better.”
Team members are a constant source for creative menu ideas. Here’s one developed by Chef Jason Nimmer. These corn cakes would be equally delicious as a brunch or lunch item served with a tossed green salad, or as a side dish with dinner.
Jason’s Corn Cakes
- 2 cups frozen whole-kernel corn, thawed
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon Sriracha (prepared chili sauce, available in grocery stores)
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1/4 cup chopped roasted red bell pepper
- 1/4 cup finely chopped scallions or green onions
- 1 teaspoon roasted garlic paste (or ¼ teaspoon garlic powder)
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs
- 2 Tablespoons grated Parmesan
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Roast corn in 400 degree oven until it begins to turn brown. Remove and cool.
Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl. (if substituting garlic powder for garlic paste, add garlic powder to the dry ingredients)
Whisk the buttermilk and eggs until smooth. Whisk in Sriracha, mustard, and garlic paste. Stir in corn, peppers, and scallions. Add to dry ingredients and mix well.
Heat a small nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium heat. Pat about 1/3 cup mixture into cakes about ½ inch thick. Add to the hot skillet. Turn the cakes when the edges are browned. Cook until both sides are brown.
Serve topped with salsa.