Local 19 members: Dishing up nutritious & delicious meals at CDHA

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If you’ve had occasion to grab a bite to eat at any Capital Health facility in recent years – whether you were on a break from work or visiting a loved one in the hospital – chances are, you were served by someone dressed in a Morrison uniform.

What you might not know is that worker is actually your fellow NSGEU member. All Restaurant Services workers with the Capital District Health Authority are members of Local 19, CDHA Support Services. These 120 men and women are responsible for preparing and serving hearty and wholesome meals to between 5,500 and 6,500 people who visit our hospitals each and every day.

Most of their work is done in the main production kitchen, located on the first floor of the Victoria General building. There, workers slice and dice fresh ingredients, and carefully prepare recipes that are provided by the management company, Morrison, that is responsible for overseeing Restaurant Services for CDHA.

Kelly Swinimer, a Journeyman Cook, has worked for Capital Health for more than 23 years. She cites the pension, job security and decent rate of pay as just a few of the factors that made the job appealing. She does all the prep work for two Capital Health cafeteria sites, and mans the line at the VG cafeteria, whipping up fresh and tasty fajitas for a long line of hungry customers. It’s pretty clear from watching her interact with customers that she loves her job.

The fajitas are just one of the popular, healthy dishes that are served by our members.

A few years ago, CDHA decided it was time to lead by example, implementing a Healthy Eating Strategy at their facilities. That meant more fresh fruits and veggies, lower fat items, and less salt, and yes – even the removal of deep fryers, French fries, gravy and donuts from the menus.

Now, almost everything served in CDHA cafeterias is homemade and made on-site, from scratch. In the kitchen, whole seasoned chickens spin slowly on a rotisserie as Steve Huntley, another Journeyman Cook, stirs a vat of one of two daily homemade soup offerings.

Steve makes soups, entrees and chilis, and decorates cakes for Capital Health’s on-site catering service, as well. He has worked for Capital Health for 19 years, and says that the best part of his job is “… at the end of the day when you’ve accomplished something. You’ve got everything done that you set out to do and you’re part of a team; it just feels good at the end of the day. It doesn’t happen always,” he adds with a smile.

Steve’s low-sodium soup offerings are nestled right next to Campbell’s Soup varieties, but there’s really no competition – his fresh, from-scratch offerings, like Senegalese (a spicy sweet potato soup seasoned with cumin, curry, apples and raisins) have proven to be overwhelmingly popular with patrons.

Unfortunately, not all patrons are aware that their meals are prepared fresh, on-site.

“I’ve been sitting at a table and I can hear people talking about the butter chicken: ‘Oh, that comes in in a bag,’” Steve said.

He quickly corrects them.

And not everyone understands the rationale behind CDHA’s Healthy Eating Strategy, either. Many fondly recall “old cafeteria food,” which was simple, cheap fare that filled you up, but wasn’t overly health-conscious.

“We have our breaks out in the cafeteria with the people,” Steve pointed out, “A lot of staff sits down with us, and we try and tell them. They remember ‘the good old days’ when you could get a roast beef dinner for $4.99. You can get a roast beef dinner, turkey dinner here for $8. You can’t get that anywhere else in the city! And it’s good food.”

Local 19 President, Raymond Theriault, is the baker at the VG site. He fills racks with freshly baked loaves of wholegrain bread, pans of wholegrain cinnamon buns, cookies and scones, three varieties of tea biscuits, and multigrain dinner rolls. These treats are then packaged up (complete with nutritional information) and sold at CDHA cafeteria sites.

Raymond practically beams as he walks through his work area, showing off the 100-year-old bread oven and describing the effort that goes into preparing meals for hospital staff, patients and families.

“Every employee that is here takes a lot of pride in the work that they do and they feel very proud that they are providing the service they do to the public, families of patients, and also patients that come down here,” he said.

“Many of the staff we have here are journeyman cooks, short order cooks … and have been employed here for a long period of time. They understand the needs, they understand the production cycles, and they understand the quality and the quantity of what needs to be prepared and served here.”

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