Evolving cook-chill may seem like an oxymoron to some foodservice operators whose experience with this technology hasn't been positive. But at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus cook-chill has evolved with much success and praise.

Innovators: Julie Jones, MS, RD, LP, director, nutrition services, and Drew Patterson, culinary director

cook-chill-The café’s menu includes finished meals using cook-chill products. Photo courtesy of Nutrition Services, Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical CenterWhen the nutrition services department decided to go to a room service model, Julie Jones, director of nutrition services, and Drew Patterson, culinary director, knew they had to find a hybrid system because of the volume their operation does and the limited physical space available to them within the hospital. They investigated cruise ships and hotels before deciding to reinvent their existing cook-chill process to deliver consistent, high-quality products and add more menu variety using the same base components produced in cook-chill.

Using minimal equipment — two 100-gallon kettles, 2 cook tanks, a 100-gallon horizontal ribbon kettle, 4 combi ovens, combi oven smokers, vacuum shrink bag packaging equipment and a tilt skillet — and only 4 chefs, nutrition services provides 3,000 patient meals daily and several food items for the retail café.

For the protein program, staff work closely with an Ohio-based meat packer to develop custom turkey, pork and beef that is packaged for processing in the hospital's cook tank. For example, one custom product is a beef roast, which contains only carrots, celery, onions, beef base and beef. The packer ships the product in vacuum shrink bag packaging directly to the hospital's kitchen. "By handling the products very little we keep the quality high," Jones says. "Because of the reduced oxygen packaging, we gain an extended shelf life, up to 14 days, from the product without it being chemically injected."

cook-chill-traylineThe café’s menu includes finished meals using cook-chill products. Photo courtesy of Nutrition Services, Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center "We've been able to create some multi-use meat products," Jones says. "For example, an eye of round is a very lean piece of meat and cooking it at 145 degrees F for 12 hours, the finished product is very tender and juicy." Staff can also grill or thinly slice the meat for entrees or sandwiches.

Staff also cook turkey breast in the cook tank then smoke it in combi ovens to create a product with a different flavor profile. "We envision using both beef and turkey, which is much lower in sodium than commercial products, for our lunchmeat options," Jones says.

The culinary staff also use the cook-chill equipment to make sorbets; iced coffee, made with liquid coffee concentrate as a base; smoothies and fruit sauces that top pancakes and desserts and flavor cold beverages. For room service, staff use combi ovens to retherm up to 12 meals at a time, making the process very efficient. "We can regulate the amount of steam to add moisture or add dry heat," Jones says.

"A strict HAACP plan must be followed," says Drew Patterson, culinary director. "Also, chefs must have patience and want to try new products and experiment to find ways to make new and exciting items or the process can become stale. Not following recipes properly will produce a very inconsistent product and become very expensive with waste due to the high volume."

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