Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Certified Master Chef Jack Shoop on organic foods and cancer treatment

Blog by, Anthony J Sepe



Natalie Rotunda, Organic Food Examiner from the Examiner.com, points out that Certified Master Chef Jack Shoop is a man who appreciates the health value of organic foods. In August 2008, the Culinary Institute of America's honors graduate, educator, and restaurateur returned to his native Philadelphia to put his extraordinary culinary skills to work as Executve Chef, now also Director of the Dietary Department, at that city's Cancer Treatment Centers of America facility, whose care model revolves around an individualized, integrated, patient-centered approach to treating advanced cases of cancer.

Charged with revitalizing the culinary and dining experience, one of the aspects of the Center's whole-person treatment model, Chef Shoop is doing just that. A key ingredient he and his staff of 51 serve in every dish they prepare is that which comes from the heart: a deeply caring attitude. "Why am I doing this?" he asks. "For one reason, it's going to give the cancer patients a better opportunity for them to get a second chance. What impact is it going to have on our patients, that's what it comes down to."

In a recent news release, Chief of Staff at CTCA in Philadelphia Steven Standiford, MD, said, "The importance of nutrition throughout a cancer patient's journey is well documented, but often understated. Jack believes in our whole-person model and brings creativity and compassion to the culinary helm."

Chef Shoop, tell us about a typical day for you.

I cook about 10 hours a day. I manage and have an assistant clerical person, kitchen staff of 20-some, and dining staff of 20-some, and an executive sous chef. I've never felt like it was working. I come in at 5:30 in the morning. I butcher the beef and filet the fish. We make all our own pastries. The only thing we buy is Metro Artisan Breads; everything else we make from scratch.

Percentage-wise, how much organic food do you use?

In the winter, 80-85% of the foods are organic because it's not as available. In the spring, summer and early fall, it's a lot easier to get local foods, and the percentage of organic foods is in the 90-percents. You're searching everywhere for organic foods. One local family owns two farmers' markets, and they bring all our produce.

We buy from all types of sources all over the U.S. For fish and meats, we use a couple different companies.

When you cook Mediterranean foods, as I did at my restaurant, 60% of the food on the plate is vegetables. I used a lot of organics at my restaurants. As a Master Chef, you have to be qualified in nutrition. When you bring organic foods to the table, you're taking steps to eat healthy.

In addition to working with licensed nutritionists and physicians, do you also work directly with the patients?

Because I'm here to provide the 'mother standard of care,' treating every patient the way I'd want my own mother treated, I've taken the liberty, aside from working with nutritionists and physicians, of visiting the rooms of the patients. I become their friend, number one, and we can get more information for the patient's needs.

Since I arrived, I have selected Raquel Leonard, a Georgetown University graduate who is also a Culinary Institute of America graduate whom I'd met, and loved and appreciated what she did, and titled her Chef de Cuisine Patient Care. When the patients in the rooms order their food for the three-meal period, Raquel is responsible for seeing to the quality of the foods. She and an assistant actually cook the foods, with portion control in mind, and as much organic food as we can get on the plate. Everything is more harmonious with the patients' needs. We meet with  nutritionists every week and make sure we understand what every patient's needs are.

What kinds of changes have you instituted since you arrived at CTCA?

I asked for the opportunity to embrace the patients closer. My dining room manager, Devin Harrison, and her three assistants, get to know the families and what their nutritional needs are. They walk into the patients' rooms wearing business suits, not uniforms. From there, they manage our patient serving reps, those who take patients' food orders. That way, we can educate the families so they better understand what we're doing, and help the family heal, not just the patient. Three-and-a-half months now we've been doing this, and it has worked magic.

What has that got to do with organic foods? You're taking service to the organic level, meaning that if you care that much about serving organic food, why do you do that with mediocre service?

How do you cook for cancer patients whose taste buds may be compromised because of treatment, or for a number of other reasons?

One of the most interesting things I've been experiencing since I've been here, even though I've been cooking more than 40 years, you never can learn enough. When you are dealing with, for example, two cancer patients who are getting the same treatment, no matter how similar their profiles, one of them might handle doing a very, very spicy gazpacho, and the other patient will reject having those spices. You have to take it patient-by-patient, and find out what is going on with that patient.

Sometimes you have to put a little oomph into the food. Let's say we were steaming a variety of six or seven vegetables. Maybe you have to put in a pinch of sea salt and maybe a natural herb so it is delicate. If a patient is starving for some taste, we may take a little fennel or something to give flavor. We feed 800 people a day. [Note: Not all are patients.] All of the food that goes out in a buffet we do delicately, to please all the people.

For those patients who are in a challenging situation, we have to study their diet a lot more carefully, and keep a watchful eye.

Malnutrition is a very common challenge for cancer patients. Proper nutrition helps keep them strong and able to continue their treatment without interruption.

I understand you also teach cooking classes What do you teach?

We are just beginning our classes here, though the nutrition department has been educating patients and families for some time on healthy eating and nutrition and even grocery shopping.

Before you can cook, you have to shop. Even if you're doing this at home, whether a cancer patient or a food lover, buy foods in season. They will look the best in color, and taste the best in flavor. Buying organic is the healthiest, smartest thing you can do.

So I teach in three areas: First, buying the right foods; second, learning how to use your tools efficiently and keep them organized and sanitized; and third, learning how to cook smarter with healthy cooking techniques.

One of the most important things any food lover can do in order to have a finished wonderful product is to be in the right frame of mind. For cancer patients, it is that embracement, it's that extra hug, that tells them we care about them. It's the same at home. If your mind is in love with the food, the food is always better. It really does work. That is why it's important to go above and beyond for our patients, aside from the clinical side. This is what the culinary department can do for them. In order to work for me, you have to get it. You have to believe.

Cancer Treatment Centers of America Philadelphia

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