Organics on the Menu at Stanford Hospital

Roasted red pepper soup with goat cheese.

Soup sure does a body good.

Stanford Hospital knows that. And if you’re a foodie ever in need of medical care, you might just want to make sure you end up there, because the renowned hospital has just launched a new all-organic, local, sustainable “Farm Fresh” menu option for inpatients. It’s centered around gourmet soups created in collaboration with Peninsula restaurateur and long-time champion of organics, Jesse Cool.

Right now, the organic option, which started a few weeks ago, is offered only at dinner time to patients on unrestricted diets. But plans are to eventually expand it to patients’ lunches, and to the cafeteria offerings.

The organic dinner tray for patients comes complete with your choice of soup with grass-fed meatballs.

If you opt for the organic menu, you get your choice of made-from-scratch chicken noodle soup or that day’s local vegetable soup. The latter might be cauliflower soup with rosemary, roasted sweet pepper with goat cheese, roasted tomato with herbs, potato leek, carrot ginger with curry, cream of spinach, or corn with basil and smoked cheddar.

Your tray also arrives with a small organic salad, organic whole grain bread, a dessert of either stuffed baked apple or seasonal fruit with honey yogurt sauce, and a beverage such as organic lemonade, green tea, organic ginger ale, or Starbucks organic free-trade coffee.

Your soup bowl contains your choice of protein — grass-fed meatballs, poached organic chicken, or smoked tofu. Your soup comes separately in a thermos carafe to keep it nice and warm. It gets poured table-side — or in this case, bed-side.

Hospital food never looked so appealing.

So in this dreary economy, in which cash-strapped consumers are buying less organic food, why is Stanford Hospital taking on the potentially added cost of providing an organic menu for patients?

With 450 patients in its hospital at any one time, administrators believe they will be able to negotiate purchasing agreements with local farmers, many within a 200-mile radius of Stanford, so that the organics menu will be cost-effective.

“We believe that part of the healing process for patients involves eating food as fresh as possible, in which nutrients are preserved,” says Shelley Hebert, executive director of public affairs for the hospital. “We also want to educate patients about healthful eating and cooking when they leave the hospital.”

To that end, the soup recipes are being made available on the hospital’s Web site.

Stanford Hospital Executive Chef Beni Velazquez and Flea Street Cafe restaurateur Jesse Cool.

Cool, who owns Flea Street Cafe in Menlo Park, worked on the soup recipes with the hospital’s Executive Chef Beni Velazquez, a certified instructor with the Culinary Institute of America and a former Ritz-Carlton Hotel chef.

The idea for the soups came about a year ago. Quite a few of the hospital’s medical staff eats regularly at Flea Street Cafe, and Cool would always half-jest that she wanted to revamp the food served to patients. One day, one of the docs took her up on it. Dr. Robert Robbins, Stanford’s chair of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, asked her what she would like to do.

Cool answered, “Soup! Let’s start with soup.”

It wasn’t as easy as it sounds, though, because hospital patients have many different diet restrictions. These first soups are all low-sodium. Cool says the next ones she develops will be all dairy-free.

I had a chance to sample the roasted red pepper soup. Vibrant orange, it’s thickened with potatoes, and flavored with garlic, onions, fresh thyme, and tangy, creamy goat cheese. Fresh and bright tasting, it definitely made me feel better, and I wasn’t even sick.

Cool may be a veteran restaurateur and cookbook author. But this particular project proved especially gratifying to her. “To see the connection of food to well being is just very exciting,” she says.

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  • Brava J.Z. Cool! While this is good news, the introduction of desirable hospital edibles led by delicious, healthful soups. The downside is such fare is only available at Stanford Hospital. The implication’s as clear as crystal–doubtless the upcoming diningware–one must be monied to have access to the “good stuff”. If the future dictates a hospital stay for me, I’m gonna ask if the jello or fruit cup is sustainable and locally grown.

  • Go, Jesse, go! A “movement” has to start somewhere, right? Good for her for pitching the idea effectively, and for the powers that be for taking her up on it. First, Stanford — next, the rest of the country.

    (And how she continually manages to not look a day older than she did “just yesterday” is beyond me. Maybe the food??)

  • That is AWESOME news on so many levels. Cool is a true pioneer.

    Also makes me want to have invasive surgery at Stanford.

  • What a great idea! I’ve been to Stanford Hospital and couple of times when I was younger and remembered LOVING their cafeteria! It’s an expensive place though so you’d better have REALLY good insurance to be able to afford staying there.

  • I spent four weeks at a fabulous medical center in So. Cal., and all I can say is that it was a good thing that I didn’t have an appetite.

    I was initially excited about the extensive “room service” menu, but that excitement lasted less than 24 hours.

    I’d have killed (or at least offered a substantial bribe) for a bowl of that soup.

  • Here in Minneapolis, the Hennepin County Medical Center has started a rooftop herb garden which features herbs used in traditional Hmong post-partum meals. It’s great to see these institutions taking such steps to provide local and sustainable foods to those who are most in need of healthy fare.

  • I work at a hospital, and although the food isn’t gourmet it’s generally palatable enough to deliver calories to patients who often aren’t staying for more than a week. Having spoken with people managing the food service in the hospital I have sympathy for the enourmous pressures they’re under to standarise, guarantee food safety, and deliver this all with a tiny budget. It’s no wonder that this kind of gourmet service is only available to those able to pay top dollar.

    What really gets me though is the standard of food served in the hospital cafeteria to family members and staff. At my hospital the cafeteria kitchen is contracted privately and not required to adhere to the same restrictions as the kitchen serving food to patients. Despite this added freedom I have never seen such appalling food in my life. It was the same at my previous hospital, only made worse by the fact that the separate staff cafeteria was able to serve fresh, tasty food at similar prices. So much for public health promotion.

  • amazing! if hospital foods starts getting tht good, i’m sure the people working in the hospitals will be a lot less stressed and a little more hopeful and happier. 🙂 x

  • Wow! A hospital that serves you tofu? This sounds like the greatest hospital food EVER!

  • I am so excited about this trend and hope it is here to stay, and equally hope I never have to experience it myself. But its about stinking time someone took a look at hospital food and sought to improve it. In high school I worked in the hospital kitchen and it really put me off. Awesome that improvement is on its way.

  • A hospital going healthy – I hope this turns into a hot trends across the country! It’s about time.

  • That’s great news! Hopefully other hospitals will follow this example.

  • wow, that really does sound wonderful! mr. k works at the nonprofit DOCH and the food there is really grim, he might just weep if he sees this!

  • organic foods are the best for our health since they are free from dangerous chemicals and toxins ;’*

  • To those who assume only the more affluent or better-insured can take advantage of all Stanford has to offer, I would like to point out I’m currently a patient in the maternity ward (26wks pregnant, but low fluid) and my only insurance is presumptive eligibility medi-cal and I’m low-income so please don’t feel as though you’re not entitled to receive the same high standard of care as someone with better, private insurance because from my experience with this hospital, I have been treated with the utmost respect and dignity AND have been taking full advantage of the room service; I am eating for two, after all;)

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