UNC Rex Healthcare changing the stereotype of bad hospital food

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Chefs at UNC Rex Healthcare are not only winning cooking competitions against top-rated restaurant chefs, they’re gaining national attention for their new spin on an old stereotype.

“Our mac n’ cheese is excellent here, one of our most popular items,” said UNC Rex Healthcare Executive Chef Ryan Conklin.

He said EMS workers have actually had patients request to be taken to Rex because the food is so good.

That’s quite a change from the traditional take on hospital food.

“Cottage cheese and jello is the first things that come to mind, and the unidentifiable things on the tray that you look at you’re like, ‘I don’t know if I can eat that,’” said Chef Manager Steve Pexton.

Peton and Conklin are turning patients and workers into hospital food believers.

“We actually walk across the street to come eat here actually. We’re not in this building so actually come this far to come eat. It’s really good,” said Sean Dudley, a UNC Rex critical care worker.

On a given day for lunch, the Rex kitchen serves around 400 patients.

Include breakfast, dinner and the rest of the customers, they serve around 5,600 people a day.

Conklin said his background in the restaurant business has led him to push for fresher ingredients, and faster preparation.

“As a patient here, you read the menu, you order the food, you call down to our nutrition therapy office and they place the order into our kitchen just like a wait staff would at a restaurant,” said Conklin.

And as a healthcare facility, UNC Rex is advocating for a healthy lifestyle by serving healthier foods. It was the first hospital in the southeast to get rid of deep fryers in their kitchen, while still staying on top of the latest trends in the food industry.

“If you’re a patient or a family member or even an employee, you don’t have to run down the road to get the special new thing that’s out there. We actually do it here,” said Pexton.

Chefs Conklin and Pexton even won this year’s “Got to be NC Competition Dining Series,” beating out top-rated restaurant chefs for the prize. Their hard work is getting noticed across the culinary and healthcare industries.

“Other hospital groups actually fly in from Seattle or Florida or wherever, just to tour the facility here to find out how we do what we do, and whether or not they can do the same thing,” said Pexton.

But still, the attention they get at home makes all the hard work worthwhile.

“They’ll tap me on the shoulder and they’ll stop me and tell me, ‘This is the greatest food I’ve had here. Not just in this hospital, any hospital.
It’s better than restaurant food.’ And you know that gives you the warm fuzzies and you’re like, ‘Oh that’s cool, I’m glad you appreciate it,’” said Pexton.

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