FE&S: Did you have trouble with health inspectors approving sous vide?

AM: We had to talk them into allowing us to do this because they weren't familiar with the process and wanted to be sure it would be safe for us to use it. By ensuring that foods are at a uniform size and cooked for specific time periods, we can be sure that all harmful bacteria have been eliminated. Once I walked our health inspector through the process, he was able to sign off on the change.

FE&S: Did you buy special equipment?

AM: Yes, we added a vacuum sealer, thermal circulators and a high-speed oven. We also have a blast chiller.

FE&S: And would you like additional equipment?

AM: Oh, yes. We'd like thermal circulators, a smoker and cook-chill equipment so we can hold sauces and
soups longer.

FE&S: What other initiatives have you started at UNC?

AM: UNC was the birthplace for the Black Hat Chef Program, a mandatory, four-tiered training program, complete with culinary tests and a written exam that provides in-house cooks with culinary training in weeklong modules. Cooks have the ability to earn rank, bonuses
and, eventually, a promotion if they can reach the highest levels. The program is now used very successfully at Rex Healthcare.

We've also started kids' carts that look like a little ice cream truck. We give the kids a bucket with our logo on it. Kids get coupons for treats, and the kids get to use the coupons to build their own sundaes and "buy" treats. Student athletes joined us by dressing up in uniforms and signing baseballs and footballs. The kids love it.

FE&S: What do you see for the future of healthcare foodservice?

AM: Healthcare itself will move into bigger systems to have the economies of scale to drive down costs. I believe we'll see more restaurant delivery-style programs like we're doing because of the efficiency, savings and customer satisfaction. We must maintain great quality while maintaining or cutting or containing costs. And, we're in a shrinking labor market. So, I believe we have to go back to scratch cooking to make food with less cost and get the quality we want. For example, when food costs go up by 6 percent, we don't increase the cost to customers, and yet administrators expect us to keep the quality high.

We find that equipment helps us to be more efficient. For example, we bought a shredding attachment for our mixer; high-speed ovens and induction cookers are very useful, and we'd like to buy combis in the future. We also would like to build a cook-chill facility off-site that will supply products for many units. But that's a ways off.