Hospital wins culinary prize

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Hospital food usually gets a bad rap, but chefs from 11 North Shore-LIJ hospitals set out to change that perception by competing in the health system’s first-ever cooking challenge — and Forest Hills Hospital prepared a first-place gourmet meal.

Winning Chefs Gary DeFreitas and Dale Lyons, from Forest Hills Hospital, said they are used to preparing meals for 600 to 700 patients each day, so the pressure of the culinary competition did not have them boiling over.

“This event gave us the opportunity to show what we are capable of doing in the kitchen,” said Lyons. “It’s a dream come true.”

His chef-partner DeFreitas said it was a “great honor” to receive first prize in the competition, but the appreciation from the patients he serves every day is what he truly loves about his job.

“Love is the most important ingredient in cooking,” he pointed out. “And it should always come out in the dish.”

Three chef judges awarded Forest Hills Hospital’s chefs with the top prize for their original dish of stuffed pork tenderloin with cranberry wild rice. Lenox Hill Hospital received second place and Plainview Hospital came in third.

The judges included Mike Miello, executive chef for U.S. Foods, a food service distributor; Scott Leggett, corporate chef for U.S. Foods; and Deborah Lanzidelle, a registered dietitian. All entrees and side dishes prepared during the competition were rated by the judges for taste, nutrition, originality and presentation.

The Ultimate Chef Healthy Entree Challenge featured teams from Queens, Long Island, Manhattan and Staten Island squaring off at Glen Cove Hospital’s Pratt Auditorium March 29. Officials transformed the auditorium into a giant kitchen equipped with everything the top chefs needed to design their culinary creations.

Cooking challenge contestants sought to prove that hospital chefs can serve up gourmet, restaurant-quality meals, but without the fat, calories or sodium usually associated with succulent flavors.

Each hospital culinary team was paired with a registered dietitian from a North Shore-LIJ hospital to ensure that each dish contained equal or less than 500 calories, 15 grams of fat and 600 milligrams of sodium. Teams were also given a “surprise protein” — such as halibut, shrimp, chicken and pork tenderloin — which they used as centerpieces to their gastronomic offerings.

Michael Kiley, director of nutrition and food services at Glen Cove Hospital, organized the cook-off after hearing many patients rave about improvements to hospital fare. The cook-off also happened to coincide with National Nutrition Month, providing a healthy backdrop to the competition.

“Our patients often compare hospital food to restaurants and this event showcases that hospital chefs can prepare appealing food that tastes really good and is nutritious,” he said.

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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