Robert Ashe, Director of Food and Nutrition at Columbia Hospital Discusses New Foodservice Plans for the Future


I got into this business about 35 years ago. I began working nights at Brooklyn Hospital while I was still working my way through school.

I pretty much worked every position in the kitchen until I finished my education and received my masters in clinical nutrition.  After that I moved around a lot.  I worked for Albert Einstein hospital, Mercy Hospital, and eventually made my way to New York hospital where I worked as an assistant director for Angelo Galliano.

Angelo had an enormous impact on my career.  He was a people person, an innovator, and a creator.  He always listened and appreciated ideas.  Even though I was one of three assistant directors at the hospital, Angelo took me under his wing directly.  He moved me through the industry and brought me along to many of his meetings.  Through Angelo I was taught the importance of demoing equipment, the importance of looking at every detail, and the importance of finding the right mix of people to work with.  After he passed away in 1996, I continued moving around as a director at Saint Joe’s hospital, St. Francis Hospital, and finally making my way here at Columbia Hospital where I’ve been for about a year and a half now.

Columbia has been working with a decentralized meal delivery system.  As hospitals grow and develop, getting the meal closer to the patient becomes more and more mandate.  Since I got here, we have been looking at how to improve or even convert our meal delivery system all together.  Currently, we provide our services and deliver food to another building in the hospital through tunnels.  It’s plated in one place and served in another building.  There have been many proposed to solutions to this problem.  The hospital was considering building a 50 million dollar building for a kitchen to be installed since there are no kitchens in their patient buildings.  What we are doing now, however, is trying to go floor by floor and redesign the food service for the patients.  Since we service about 900 to 1,000 beds three times a day, it’s going to be a big turn around and it’s going to take time.

We have been testing different services to see what is successful in our environment.  We are trying to combine operations so that patients can request food to be served at their bedside.  This allows their food to be delivered to them immediately rather than having to request a late tray, for example.  The only way to make this happen is point of service.  The best possible solution is to get the product to the patient much sooner and treat them with restaurant quality respect.  Providing restaurant quality services such as menu selection and attractive food presentation guarantees a satisfied patient.  To make this happen, we are trying to move back to the model of point of service where we have bulk food pantries in each of the patient care units.

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Choosing the appropriate cook is critical for this operation.  Bringing an executive chef into this environment would be a huge mistake.  Chefs that come from hotels or cruise lines, for example, do not have the skills to work in a production kitchen like we have here.  This type of chef needs to be a new breed, and needs to be a specialist in food technology.  They need to be able to prepare and serve food in bulk and create recipes that hold up over time.  I need somebody who has the skills to cook in bulk, plate the food properly, and get it to the patient in a timely manner.