Americas Top Healthcare Chefs Share Thoughts On Comfort Food

Comfort Food. It’s a food phrase used often these days, and working in healthcare, it’s a necessity when it comes to feeding patients who are sick. One thing I’ve learned for sure over the last few years is that you can never forget who your guests are. And our guests are always craving comfort food. Meatloaf, Mac & Cheese, Mashed Potatoes, Baked Chicken, Grits, and Baked Apples are all things we serve daily at Rex, giving some a a ‘taste of home’ while they are here in the hospital. But what does comfort food mean to you? What memories does a particular dish bring back, what kind of food reminds you of your family? What food reminds you of home?

For me, the answer is simple. I’m a breakfast connoisseur. No food is as comforting to me as a couple of over easy cooked eggs, fresh biscuits, and creamy sausage gravy.When I travel back home to New York, the biscuits and gravy aren’t available, so that’s when it switches to an everything bagel with vegetable cream cheese.  A freshly baked New York bagel of course!

 Over Easy Eggs…. this started when I was young. I think it’s because on the weekends my whole family ate breakfast together and my father used to cook me eggs just how I liked them. I miss those days. When I eat over easy eggs now I can instantly be reminded of my early days. A runny egg makes me smile.

Biscuits & Gravy…slightly new to me, as I’ve only enjoyed this treat for just the past six years since moving to the great state of North Carolina. Well actually, in those years, I’ve slightly over-enjoyed it. Every time I eat biscuits and gravy, I get frustrated as to why I hadn’t been exposed to this earlier in my life, I guess it’s a North/South thing?

Everything Bagel with Cream Cheese…Normally, if I’m in New York or New Jersey, I’m enjoying a bagel at sometime within the first day of arrival. I have no control over it, as I find it virtually impossible to pass my favorite bagel shop with out hooking myself up. I’ve been told that this combonation is also the perfect cure for a hangover as well.

Since this topic is so dear to me, I’ve also decided to dig a bit furtherand ask my peers in the industry to weigh in on this topic as well. These chefs in my opinion, are some of healthcare’s top culinary influencers and leaders from around the country.These are the ones I stand with while making forward strides when it come to bringing “New School” Hospital Food to the forefront. Here is what they had to say about comfort food…


John Graziano CDM CFPP-Executive Chef– Valley Hospital, Ridgewood, New Jersey

John G

“It has to be fried calamari. It reminds me of going to the shore in the summer and celebrating at a restaurant with family. If it’s on a menu I’m ordering it. It’s the first thing I order when calling in for a pizza or sitting down at a diner. My wife thinks I’m nuts the amount of times she seen me eating it! It’s an Italian thing”

Shawn Dolan CEC, Executive Chef– UNC Hospitals, Chapel Hill, North Carolina


My favorite type of comfort food is desserts!  I tend to go to my two best friends for this Ben & Jerry.  My  top flavor is Chubby Hubby, but I always enjoy the new varieties as well.  The other dessert that I love is German Chocolate Cake.  Let me be clear though, when it comes to sweets, I do not discriminate! I used to eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s about 3-4 times per week when I was working in New York.  After a marathon shift cooking, one needs a little comforting – I remember the flavor “Festivus” from Seinfeld.  It was gingerbread laden and it was amazing.  It was sold only for about two years in the late 90’s  around Christmas – I have been eagerly awaiting its return ever since.

German Chocolate Cake is something that I remember when I was a younger.  There was a killer bakery in the neighborhood where I grew up that sold it – and it became my favorite thing instantly!”

Aatul Jain, Executive Chef– St. Clare’s Health System, Denville, New Jersey


It’s crispy French fries with a little bit of cheese sauce and after I ‘ve indulged in the cheese sauce, French fries tossed with grated parmesan and truffle oil! For the record, its about #moderate indulgence- can’t over do the fried stuff!

Jim Mcgrody, Foodservice Director and Author of  What We Feed Our Patients- Raleigh, North Carolina


“Lasagna. My mother used to make a very good lasagna. It was about the only thing she made that was good. She used to be a little heavy handed with Thyme and her lasagna always had a distinct flavor because of that. It was not overpowering but it definitely had a presence. To this day Thyme reminds me of my mother and how good her lasagna was.”

Ron Sabatini, Director of Culinary Operations- Don Miller & Associates, Chula Vista, California

Ron Sabatini

“My favorite comfort food is pizza. It can be cheese , pepperoni or gourmet. I grew up on pizza and it makes me smile inside and outside when I make it for others or eat it with friends or family. Pizza has been a staple of south Philadelphia since before WWll but became most popular as WWll ended. Both my grandmothers made and baked their own crust and sauce for pizza. I see pizza as a food that makes people happy when they eat it.”

Tim Gee CEC, Executive Chef, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, New Brunswick, New Jersey

Tim Gee

“Jersey style thin(emphasis on the word thin) crust pizza all year round. If it’s summer time, I’m getting down with some tomatoes and Proscuitto or some fresh grilled corn with lime butter.

I was born in New Jersey with the sand between my toes and the waves in front of me, so this food brings me right back to my childhood and all is well.

Eric Eisenberg CEC, Corporate Executive Chef, Swedish Health Services, Seattle, Washington

Eric Eisenberg

“I find this one of the hardest questions to answer because it really depends on what part of me needs comforting. As you can all tell by looking at me I comfort myself with food a lot! SO I’m struggling to answer but if I had to lock it down I’d have to say… Authentic Asian soup of almost any variety. Ramen , Wonton , Pho , Hot and Sour, Egg Drop and of course my Bubbie’s Matzo Ball!”

About Chef Ryan CEC

I'm the Executive Chef for Rex Healthcare's Culinary & Nutritional Services team in Raleigh, NC. We are doing some amazing things. We are changing the perception of "Hospital Food"- one meal at a time.
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