Hospital food, however healthy it may be, still does not enjoy high repute. When mentioned, visions of lukewarm, bland food usually paired with a side of fruits or a bun, depending on time of day, permeate our minds.
But having said that, hospitals today are taking more care in what they serve. In this article, Penang Monthly speaks to Gleneagles Penang, and are taken behind the scenes to the kitchen, where a whopping 200 meals per dining session – and there are five dining sessions in a day – are prepared daily.
You Won’t Believe It’s Hospital Food
“We offer patients a variety of choices on our menu – which is replaced annually – ranging from Penang street food such as mee jawa to international fares such as Mediterranean-style pan-seared fish fillet and grilled mushroom chicken,” says Lim Wern Ying, head of Gleneagles’ Dietetics and Food Service Department.
“Apart from asking patients for their general food preferences, we have weekly cycle menus with illustrated images of food options for each day for them to choose from,” says Lim, who quips that the menus, which come with the chef ’s recommendation, could be mistaken for menus in restaurants and cafes if one were not told that it is a hospital menu!
“We take all aspects – especially the nutritional benefits and tastiness of our meals – into serious consideration when we craft our menu. We allow our patients to not only visualise what meal they will be having, but more importantly to also know about the nutritional values that their meals contain.”
The kitchen has also been expanded and revamped recently as part of Gleneagles’ expansion, and is completely transformed into a state-of-the-art centralised kitchen with larger capacity to handle every detail of the hospital’s catering process, from the procurement of raw ingredients to the plating of meals.
“We have been conferred the ‘Bersih, Selamat dan Sihat’ award by the Ministry of Health, and our kitchen, which is currently staffed by 13 cooks and nine kitchen helpers, is halal-certified.
Gleneagles' centralised kitchen. Two hundred meals per dining session are prepared here five times a day.
“What’s so unique about Gleneagles’ catering is the highly centralised role my department plays in the catering service – to the extent that the meals here are served not by nurses, but by members of our department’s service team who are professionally trained in hospitality skills,” says Lim.
Preparing food in a hospital setting, as can be imagined, is challenging. “We cater meals to patients based on their specific medical conditions, and we also need to take into consideration food safety standards and nutritional benefits which cannot be overlooked.
“To ensure the freshness of our ingredients, we have recently installed a wireless temperature monitoring system in all our fridges and chillers, which allows us to control the temperature of all our chilling facilities more efficiently. We also use food warmer machines to keep the cooked food warm until they are handed over to the sous chef to do the meal-plating.
“Although most of our meals are regular diets which are prepared daily in bulk, there are also certain meals known in medical dietetic terms as soft diet, puree diet and blended diet, which we prepare for patients with special medical conditions, such as those undergoing chemotherapy,” says Lim.
Surveys are regularly conducted to gather feedback from patients. “Based on the data collected, we make the necessary improvements to our catering service to enhance patients’ dining experience.
“We also have standard recipes for all our dishes so that our chefs can recreate the exact same taste and presentation for all the dishes every single day,” says Lim.
Apart from the conventional menu, a Chinese traditional post-natal diet menu, which largely consists of sesame oil-boiled meals, has also been created by their team of chefs.
“While the prices of the ingredients used in our kitchen may fluctuate seasonally, we have not raised the price of our meals for five to seven years now, to maintain the affordability.
“As a professional hospital catering team, we always strive to perfect our dishes in all aspects by constantly researching and experimenting with new cooking techniques and preparation methods,” says Lim.
So the next time you come across hospital meals, think again!
A Chef’s Tale
Born and raised in Penang, Chew Sheaw Ming, 48, is currently the Head Chef of Gleneagles’ Dietetic and Food Service Department.
“I’ve had a fiery passion for cooking even before I finished my O-Levels,” says Chew. “I started my career as a cook in a local hotel and with perseverance and diligence, eventually made my way up the kitchen ranks.
“In 1993 I embarked on a journey which saw me working as a chef in Singapore’s major international hotel chain on Sentosa Island and a private clubhouse for almost 30 years,” he says.
Chew Sheaw Ming.
He decided to return to Penang in 2017 after having spent more than 20 years in Singapore, due to an unexpected family matter which required his immediate attendance. “At the time, I saw a job opening for the position of Head Chef in Gleneagles Penang. I asked myself, ‘Why not take up this challenge?’ It would be enriching and would diversify my experience as a chef.
“My definition of a good chef is someone who is able to bring the best out of his current surroundings regardless of the limitations. Although working as a head chef in a hospital kitchen was something new to me, I quickly adapted and eventually created dishes that are delicious, presentable and rich in nutritional benefits for the patients,” he says.
Chew is highly optimistic of what the future holds for Penang’s economic and urban development, and says that the younger generation must be more open-minded in adapting to the latest global technological trends so that Penang can become a truly competitive economy.
“I’ve never regretted coming back,” says Chew. “It’s been over two years now, and the thing which I love the most is the much more relaxing and laid-back city culture which allows me to balance work-life better.”
Enzo Sim is a Mass Communications graduate who has an unwavering passion towards International Relations, history and regional affairs of South-east Asia. His passion has brought him to different South-east Asian capitals to explore the diverse cultural intricacies within the region.