If you’re on the fence about hiring an executive chef, or not sure where to find a good one, a panel at the recent Association for Healthcare Foodservice annual conference offered plenty of reasons why you should, and even more insight on how.

“If you want to raise your culinary level, you have to hire an executive chef,” said Jim McGrody, a longtime chef and the director of culinary and nutrition services at Rex UNC Health Care in Raleigh, NC. McGrody should know. He wrote the book on hospital food. Literally. His 2011 book, “What We Feed Our Patients,” shared a behind-the-scenes look at hospital food and his mission to make it better.

Why you should hire an executive chef?

If the goal is improving the food, you’ve got to hire a trained culinarian, says McGrody, who’s done just that at Rex. He now has six other culinary school graduates on his team. His fellow panelists, all executive chefs, offered even more reasons why such a hire is imperative.

An executive chef will help with not only the food, but also food costs, says Aatul Jain, executive chef and retail manager at Saint Clare’s Hospital in Denville, NJ. After two bronze finishes the previous two years, Jain proved he’s also still pretty adept in the kitchen, too, by taking the top spot in AHF’s culinary competition this year.

Adding an executive chef also lets the community know you’re serious about the food, says Ryan Conklin, McGrody’s executive chef at Rex. Timothy Gee, executive chef for Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, says a chef also brings more than just cooking, adding organization, sanitation and ultimately increased productivity.

McGrody adds that a chef should be able to help with a hospital’s commitment to sustainability by providing more of a connection to local producers.

Jain suggests that one way to sell the addition of a higher priced executive chef to administrators is by explaining the ROI that comes with a pro. Not only should a strong chef increase productivity, but Jain says they can also provide opportunities for upcharges on catering events.