When Angelo Mojica took over as director of nutrition and food services at University of North Carolina Hospitals, he was jolted by the modest scope of the in-house catering operations. This was brought home rather dramatically early in his tenure.
“The president of the hospital has a holiday party at his house every year,” Mojica recalls, “and since I started in February, I had missed it. So I asked some of the vice presidents how it went and what they thought of the catering we did. I was told we don't cater it. Instead, we get a caterer from town to do it.
“I was stunned,” he admits.
Later, he got another jolt when a major equipment presentation by an outside group was shunted to another site because, a marketing rep told Mojica, “You guys don't make very good food.”
“Catering was seen as an afterthought,” Mojica explains. “Basically, we would just send something up from the trayline. No wonder they didn't want us to cater anything major!”
Mojica decided to make catering his first priority. “I said, ‘the president's holiday party is my party and no way is someone from outside catering it again.’ In order to do all the things I wanted to do, I would need the support of our administrative team, and catering is a way to show them what we are capable of. It was also a way for my team to show off in front of our administrative team. I knew they would love to do it.”
Mojica spent much of his first year revamping the catering operation, working closely with the catering manager and catering supervisor to write a dedicated menu and develop special dishes that could “wow” the decision makers.
His first big opportunity came at the groundbreaking for UNCH's new cancer hospital. “We were asked if could do punch and cookies for the occasion!” he says. “I said, ‘No! we're not doing punch and cookies!’ Instead, we did five different smoothies in different colors served in champagne flutes. We also had an eight-tier fountain with Carolina Blue chocolate in which we pre-dipped various fruits and pastries. The occasion was a smash hit and it helped reposition us with our administrative team.
For the next president's holiday dinner, Mojica and his team came up with, among other things, a pasta bowl made from a whole wheel of Parmesan cheese.
When the hot pasta — a crab-stuffed ravioli for that occasion — was poured in it partially melted the cheese bowl. The bowl scrapings were mixed with the pasta, which was then topped with fresh basil and cracked pepper for a high-impact presentation.
But the gambit was a success. “After we pulled off some of these catered events, I could go to our administrative team with requests for $50,000 for a heat on demand system, or $100,000 to add new workstations in the production kitchen, or even $150,000 for our new bedside order entry laptops. We got all these things because we first showed them what we were capable of.