Pleasure from Pain
Beyond the four main foodservice units at Rush University Medical Center, the Food & Nutrition Department also manages a contract with Au Bon Pain.
The addition of the popular deli/bakery shop came at just the right time, according to Lafferty. "We used to operate another small restaurant in the hospital lobby but it needed refurbishing," she explains. "Considering the traditionally cash-strapped environment of most hospitals, we were looking for creative financing opportunities, and we found one in Au Bon Pain."
The relationship works out well for everyone, says Lafferty. "Beyond letting us renovate an aging facility, the arrangement allowed us to take expense off the bottom line and collect rent/commission," she explains. "Because Au Bon Pain operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, we were able to adjust the operations and hours of our other retail foodservice operations in order to gain the greatest return on investment without compromising service to Rush patrons."
Interestingly, the addition of Au Bon Pain did nothing to diminish the market share of the hospital's baking operations run by Executive Pastry Chef Nancy Snyder. "Au Bon Pain has its niche with fresh rolls and cookies," Lafferty explains,"but what Nancy does is very different and very much appreciated by the Rush community."
Chicago's Rush University Medical Center certainly has its share of well-known and respected physicians, but one of its most prominent employees isn't part of the medical team at all. In fact, unless you've had a chance to sample some of the delectable desserts served at the facility's foodservice units; you may be surprised to learn that person is Executive Pastry Chef Nancy Snyder.
"Everyone knows Nancy," says Food and Nutrition Director Linda Lafferty. "Her baked goods are very distinctive and quite impressive. Most of us the Rush community can take one look at a dessert on a patient tray or in the cafeteria and know that it's one of Nancy's creations."
Snyder has a resume that rivals that of any upscale restaurant pastry chef's. Her experience includes a post at the Art Institute of Chicago, time spent as an owner and operator of a pastry shop and an apprenticeship with famed French pastry chefs Jacquy Pfeiffer and Sebastien Canonne.
"Working with Pfeiffer and Canonne really refined my style and elevated me to the next level," she says. "But at that point in my career, I was looking for a job in which I could have a life—pastry chefs work long hours and rarely have a weekend or holiday off. I had heard there was an opportunity at the hospital with normal working hours and excellent benefits. For me, it was a perfect fit."
A perfect fit, too, for Lafferty and her team, who at that time (1999) were in the midst of a major overhaul of the institution's central kitchen and production facilities.
"One big consideration in planning the new kitchen was whether to allocate space for a bakeshop," says Lafferty. "Before Nancy came on board, we wondered if we needed one because so many wonderful baked goods can be bought from local bakeries.
"But after weighing our food costs against what we could save by producing in-house, and after hiring Nancy and seeing her in action, it was a slam dunk to include a bakeshop in our plans."
Taking it All In
Rush University Medical Center is an expansive facility that includes the 824-bed Presbyterian-St. Luke's Hospital (which houses Rush Children's Hospital), the 110-bed Johnston R. Bowman Health Center and Rush University.
Under Lafferty's lead, the Food and Nutrition Department operates four main foodservice units: an employee cafeteria, an upscale private club called Room 500 ( complete with white linens and a wait staff), all hospital patient foodservice, and two coffee and snackbar kiosks. In total, Snyder and her crew of three—which includes Pastry Chef Tim Dvorak, Baker Frank Keen and Cake Decorator Mike Smith—turn out products for nearly 8,000 transactions per day.
These offerings range from traditional fare to the extraordinary. A usual day's breakfast selection includes coffeecakes, muffins, Danish, scones, cinnamon rolls, turnovers, fruit breads and biscuits. Typical lunch items include bread sticks, dinner rolls and pizza dough.
On the catering side, the bakeshop produces tortes, cakes, petit fours, cookies, bar cookies and specialty sauces for plating, such as lemon curd and blueberry, raspberry and caramel sauces. The coffee kiosks are stocked with fresh-made eclairs, chocolate-dipped strawberries, bourbon bread pudding, cheesecakes, strawberry shortcake and small birthday cakes.
Snyder's most popular specialty items include Triple Chocolate Mousse, Lemon Mousse Torte (see recipe), and Italian Cream Cake—a white cake filled with coconut and pecans and topped with a cream cheese, coconut and pecan frosting.) That recipe is a Rush Central Kitchen classic, handed down for many years.
Creating a Pretty— and Profitable—Picture
High technology and state-of-the-art equipment help make Snyder's job easier. Some of her favorite gadgets include a table-sized sheeter for making pizza dough, a sugar box for creating blown sugar pieces, a high-Btu candy stove, a blast chiller and two rotating rack ovens that keep air flowing evenly through products.
Beyond the equipment, it's the special touches that Snyder employs that mean the most to customers, and ultimately add more to the bottom line.
"One of the benefits of an in-house bakery is that we can always add to the perceived value of products," says Snyder. " Making little garnishes or adding sauces to a dish are very little trouble, yet really add to the overall dessert."
Some of her favorite "tricks of the trade" include:
- Dusting with cocoa powder or powdered sugar.
- Decorating cupcakes and large cakes with icing in fun shapes and characters, such as clowns and animals. This delights the hospital's pediatric patients and their families, says Snyder.
- Using bold, eye-catching colors such as red or yellow.
- Glazing cakes and pastries to add shine and shelf life.
- Creating dishes in untraditional shapes such as triangles, ovals and pyramids.
- Fashioning simple garnishes from phyllo dough, puff pastry, apple chips or banana crisp, and whipped cream, strawberries or
"When pastry chefs compete, one of the phrases you will hear is 'make it look sexy.' This means add height, color and interest so that the product is so beautiful and different, it makes customers want to try it," says Snyder. "Most of these added touches cost less than a penny per serving, but they make the final product appear to be worth so much more."
That's a small price to pay for the benefits it brings to the entire foodservice operation. "When customers are served something special, it puts a positive filter on their eyes." says Lafferty. "They see the desserts Nancy and her team create and expect wonderful things from the entire Department of Food and Nutrition."
Click here for the recipe for Snyder's recipe for Lemon Mousse Torte