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Stony Brook University Hospital’s food delivers health, good taste, survey says

John Mastacciuola, executive chef at Stony Brook Medicine,

John Mastacciuola, executive chef at Stony Brook Medicine, poses for a photo with grilled chicken paillard he prepared at Stony Brook University Hospital Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

You could almost call it a contradiction in terms: tasty hospital food.

But that is what Stony Brook University Hospital delivers, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

In a survey of 262 hospitals released Monday that ultimately ranked 24 hospitals nationwide, the Washington, D.C., based not-for-profit named Stony Brook first alongside Aspen Valley Hospital in Aspen, Colorado, for providing a “healthy hospital food environment.”

The committee cited the hospital’s 2,242-square-foot roof garden as one of the reasons for its high score. Josephine Connolly-Schoonen, executive director of the nutrition division in the department of family medicine, started the garden in 2011 with the help of her children and a state grant. Now, each year interns in the nutrition division help produce about 800 pounds of produce — including tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, kale, Swiss chard and many herbs — that end up on patients’ plates.

This time of year there wasn’t much to see in the neatly laid out raised beds except some garlic that will be harvested in the spring. But Connolly-Schoonen said when planting begins, she hopes she can involve patients — especially children — in the garden.

“Good health starts with good food,” she said.

All of which Dr. Stephen Neabore of the physicians committee found impressive. “They are clearly setting a good example,” he said.

And it can’t just be healthy food, Neabore said, it also has to taste good so patients will eat it.

That’s something Stony Brook has taken to heart. Under Michael West, director of food and retail services, about 97 percent of the 1,800 to 2,000 patient meals served daily are cooked to order and delivered hotel-style to the patient’s bed. That’s despite 30 different special diets that patients might require.

“We feel that food is a big part of recovery,” West said. “Food is one of the few things that a patient can control and can give you a little more normalcy.”

Patients can order a freshly made salad, crudités with hummus or black bean quesadillas. Or they can order comfort food, such as homemade meatloaf — all under the watchful eye of executive chef John Mastacciuola. Mastacciuola, once chef for the cast and crew of HBO shows like “Sex and the City,” said he has, over the past five years, moved the hospital as close as possible to healthy, restaurant-quality food. No fried foods. No soda. And low sodium.

On a recent day, the special was salmon with chili sauce, served alongside asparagus and roasted potatoes. The dessert special was peach and pear cobbler. He also had on hand a freshly made chicken paillard, composed of grilled chicken atop sauteed spinach and mashed potatoes — a favorite, he said, ordered 300 times a day. And he had a gorgeous angel food cake, baked on the premises.

Rodis Reyes, 30, of Brentwood, called the food “delicious.” The expectant mother, on bed rest in the hospital for several months until she delivers twins, said she loved the grilled chicken with white rice, broccoli and corn. The quesadillas weren’t bad either, she said.

What’s more, she said, “the service is good.”

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