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R&IEditorial Archives2002 — May 15 — 2002 Ivy Awards

2002 Ivy Awards

Maine Medical Center
Portland, Maine

There are a lot of things Mary Keysor wants to do better.

“I would like to enhance our training programs. We need to improve employee retention. We should be able to pay entry-level workers to go to college. I want to do something about the security of the national food supply,” she says. As the speech winds down, there is a strong sense that Keysor’s list is far longer than she has let on.

“We’ve done fine work,” she says, “but there are always ways to improve.”

This year Maine Medical Center in Portland has won Restaurants and Institutions’ Ivy Award and Keysor, its director of nutrition services, also received an International Foodservice Manufacturers Association Silver Plate, clear signals that the 600-bed facility operates under uncommonly high standards. Yet even before the honors have officially been conferred upon her, Keysor is looking ahead on her journey of excellence, fixed on goals that will further strengthen the successes she has enjoyed during a 15-year tenure at MMC.

She is unabashedly pleased, though, that a healthcare facility—any one, not just hers—basks in the spotlight. “The perception is that the food in a hospital shouldn’t be that good,” Keysor says.

In fact, hers is very good, and so is the service. In a recent benchmark survey comparing MMC to other hospitals, the food department received five stars, the only hospital whose food secured that high score.

“I’m so psyched about our rank,” Keysor says. “But I also know that if they did the report again next month, the score could fall to a three. We can’t stop trying.”

Keysor and her team are responsible for patient feeding as well as for the various foodservice outlets spread across three hospital campuses. Nearly 6,000 meals per day are served at the main medical center, plus more than 1,900 meals at nearby Brighton and Scarborough sites. As at many hospitals, retail meals, rather than patient, account for 65% to 70% of all food served.

If anyone dares to think that Maine is a distant outpost in the culinary world, Keysor is quick to counter that assumption. “Portland has many fine restaurants. People here have developed very high expectations for food and service.”

The hospital also has its share of well-known guests and benefactors, including famous neighbors George H. W. and Barbara Bush (who lent her name to the hospital’s new children’s wing); the late Elizabeth Noyce, a donor to MMC and one of Maine’s leading philanthropists; members of the L.L. Bean retailing family, and past Maine governors and senators.

At the heart of MMC stands the newly renovated Impressions Cafe, without which “we never would have been able to win an Ivy,” Keysor says. With New Hampshire granite counters, hand-glazed tile welcome signs, stone-hearth pizza oven and slate floors, the servery and adjacent dining room serve as the hospital’s community centers, places for physicians to rub shoulders with visiting medical students, and administrators with staff members—24 hours a day.

“People see the cafeteria as their kitchen,” says Beth Creeden, manager of cash operations. “They want fresh ingredients, things they eat at home.”

Chef’s Table, a display cookery station, anchors the servery. Here, a twice-weekly guest-chef program puts hospital VIPs from all departments behind the counter, where they occasionally spend a lunch hour stir-frying vegetables and dishing meals to colleagues. Recently, the hospital CFO donned an apron for a stint as chef. “He was quite generous on portions,” Keysor confides.

Other stations include the Maine Event hot food station, Good Day Deli, Bramhall Grill, Brick Hearth pizza oven and the Gourmet Brewing beverage station.

Weathered wooden boxes, metal baskets filled with fruit, bright ceramic plates and appetizing food displays give Impressions Cafe a homey yet lively air. The operation bustles with customers around the clock. It serves some 950 breakfasts, 1,700 lunches and 700 dinners “on a light day,” Keysor says—to a campus staff and patient population of about 4,900. Keeping one station open late at night guarantees that even midnight-shift visitors eat well. Overall retail checks average $2.50, with lunches running $4. Back-of-the-house production keeps 200 employees busy turning out a daily average of 1,150 patient meals, 400 to 500 catering meals at the main campus, and food for special events.

“A restaurant that excels in one cuisine can call itself a success,” Keysor says. “At the hospital, people expect everything from kosher to Burger King to comfort food to gluten-free to the Pritikin diet. We have to be nimble enough to serve upscale meals to the board of directors or macaroni and cheese to a sick child in the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital [part of the main campus].”

Catering and staff menu favorites draw on Maine specialties such as lemon-Parmesan fiddleheads, the state’s much-loved springtime fern steamed and served with fresh lemon, cracked pepper and Parmesan; seafood dishes such as scallops baked in honey, butter and lemon-sherry sauce, and zucchini chowder made with tomatoes, corn, celery, onions and zucchini in a creamy cheese base.

Patients lean toward familiar comfort foods such as turkey dinner, Yankee pot roast and haddock, the favorite fish of Maine. “We pay top dollar to get haddock fresh from local sources,” Keysor notes. “It’s wicked good.”

New recipes are added to menus constantly, especially through a program called “I Love Food.” The sold-out quarterly marketing event provides MMC with a way to welcome community residents to the hospital for an evening of dining and learning about heart-friendly eating. The $10 tickets are priced to “get folks in here,” Keysor says.

Many items from “I Love Food” move to the medical center’s retail menus. Popular additions include Caribbean chicken with tropical fruit salsa; pumpkin mousse; shrimp pilau with basmati rice, and Greek dolmades (beef, onions and rice rolled in grape leaves).

In addition to planned promotions, Keysor enjoys surprising staff on all shifts with free coffee as a way to thank them for continued patronage or for “coming in on our rough storm days. Staff love to come in expecting to buy their coffee and bagel and discovering that the coffee is free.”

The hospital’s 92% occupancy rate means little down time for foodservice staff or equipment. A cook-chill facility in the main kitchen produces soups, stocks, sauces, stews and dressings used in Impressions and its smaller sister operations at Scarborough and Brighton.

By design, Keysor ensures that her staff is fully integrated into the workings of Maine Medical. “They connect with administration, patients, everyone.” In turn, she holds as her department’s responsibility the bringing together of all dining services customers.

“I want the people in my department to understand how much value they bring to the whole facility. We don’t save lives but what we do is very important.”

2002 Ivy Award Winners
Fairmont Scottsdale Princess
Scottsdale, Arizona
Gibsons Bar Steakhouse
Chicago, Illinois
Maine Medical Center
Portland, Maine
The River Café
Brooklyn, New York
St. Helena, California
2002 Ivy Recipes

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