AHF Culinary Competition winner has done it all, from fine dining and sports bars to banquets for thousands.
Sea bass or black cod, cooked in any way
Favorite Recent Restaurant Meal:
Lamb chops with blue cheese risotto at the Driscoll Grill in Austin, TX: “one of the best meals I've ever had!”
Hobbies & Interests:
Camping with the family; running (he's done some half marathons, where his goal now is breaking the 2 hour mark)
Favorite Food Show:
The grand prize winning chef in this year's Culinary Competition of the Association for Healthcare Foodservice (AHF) honed his culinary talents working in four- and five-diamond hotel restaurants. William Read, executive chef at Saint Mary's Health Care in Grand Rapids, MI, won the AHF honor this past spring along with his dining services director at the time, Mary Jankowski (Jankowski has since taken a new position at a different hospital).
The honor signals the emergence of another culinary star in the healthcare foodservice community, one who has extensive experience with both fine and volume dining. Read accumulated that array of experience while working at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids.
At Amway, he put in time in the hotel's five-diamond 1913 Room and the four-diamond Cygnus, where he served as chef for more than a year. He also opened Amway's GP Sports sports bar concept, where he was chef de cuisine. To cap it off, he put in four years as sous chef for Amway's extensive banquet operations.
Saint Mary's is certainly a different environment, but Read sees it as an important new challenge where what he does makes a big difference in his customers' lives. At the hospital he oversees a staff of 110 and has responsibility for up to 700 patient meals and 1,200 retail meals a day.
Among his accomplishments was a recent conversion to room service patient dining for the entire hospital. Read is currently planning a major cafeteria renovation to take place in the next few years.
How did you come to be interested in a culinary career?
My grandmother was the one who first got me interested in cooking. Later, when I needed a job I started working in the back of a bar and then moved on to fast food places. I worked for a Perkins for a year and a half in the kitchen while I was in high school. When I turned 18, I started at Grand Rapids Community College. It's actually one of the best culinary schools in the country as a community college. I have an Associates degree in culinary management from there.
Where did you start your professional career?
I started at Amway as a prep cook in a restaurant called Tinseltown, where I worked my way up until I was a kitchen supervisor.
What attracted you to a hospital job?
I wanted to further myself. Also, by that time I was really burned out on the hotel and the hours and needed a change. I had spent my last four years with Amway as banquet sous chef. They have 35 ballrooms and 300,000 sq.ft. of meeting space, so that's a pretty big job.
What was Saint Mary's looking for in you?
At the time they only had a production supervisor, and they were looking for someone with more of a culinary background to pick up the pace as executive chef.
What was the room service conversion like?
About a third of the hospital was already doing room service, which we had to shut down for a weekend while we converted. For the rest of the hospital, we had to flip the switch. Everything was done at third shift. Its not like in a restaurant where, when you remodel, you just shut down for a couple weeks. At a hospital, everyone's still got to eat.
What are the changes you have made that you are proudest of?
Getting the staff where they need to be as cooking professionals who can stand with those from restaurants. We had a local gumbo competition near here recently, and I sent two of my best cooks to it. They were up against about 15 restaurants from around here, but they won. I had nothing to do with it and that was great.
What was the AHF Challenge like?
We were confident because we knew what we were making and we had it practiced. Of course, the key thing is doing it in front of all those people on a little portable burner.
Why do you do culinary competitions?
I'm a pretty competitive person by nature, so I need something to keep those juices flowing.