Garden-to-table restaurant attracts locals, wows patients

Competition heats up in hospital recipe contest

Manna is a full-service, sit-down restaurant inside a hospital serving garden-to-table fare to both patients and patrons. (Castle Rock Adventist)

by Amber Hansen, Health Care Without Harm Southwest Healthy Food in Health Care program coordinator

In Castle Rock, Colo., the first frost is just days away. Brian Fitzgerald, the resident farmer at Manna Garden, is harvesting the remaining tomatoes and peppers and prepping the ground for winter. When the growing season is in full swing, he harvests produce that goes directly to Chef Dan Skay at the adjacent Manna Restaurant.

This garden-to-table restaurant has the unique plans of building a hydroponic greenhouse and milling locally-grown heritage grains to use for pizza dough. Even more unique: Manna is a full-service, sit-down restaurant inside a hospital.

Skay is the nutrition manager and executive chef at the 60-bed Castle Rock Adventist Hospital and Manna Restaurant. The hospital’s restaurant and the organic garden are indicative of the paradigm shift occurring in health care food service.

The majority of Manna’s diners are community members, but little separates the restaurant and inpatient food service. The two share suppliers and kitchen space, and the room service meals delivered to hospital patients are often pared down versions of the restaurant’s menu items.

Gourmet and growing

Skay, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, has worked in restaurants, hotels, and catering for more than 30 years and now brings that innovative approach to hospital food service.

Part of the impetus for creating the restaurant was to show how hospital food service can be enjoyable and sustainable. High windows allow light to stream into the restaurant, while cutting down on the use of lighting and electricity. Durable dinnerware and silverware eliminate the need for disposable versions and create an ambiance that draws community members to the hospital for the sole purpose of dining at Manna.

Manna Garden, a 15,000-square-foot garden, is located on Adventist Hospital’s campus in Castle Rock, Colo. (Castle Rock Adventist)

Skay’s interest in sustainability and the connection to food was sparked about seven years ago when a garden was added to his previous hospital, and it continues to grow (pun intended) with Manna’s garden. With 95 plots for community members to harvest themselves and a 15,000-square-foot garden, about 8,000 pounds of produce makes its way into the community each season.

The restaurant gets some of its produce from the garden and also commits to supporting humane, sustainable, and responsible farming practices for other products they source. Much of their purchasing happens through a wholesale distribution company dedicated to locally sourced products for produce, meats, poultry, and honey (to supplement the hive the hospital has onsite). Castle Rock, a Practice Greenhealth member, also purchases bakery goods from a nearby bakery and cafe that employs adults with special needs.

Hospital chefs compete

Skay has set out to prove making a healthier hospital meal does not mean flavor has to suffer. He uses flavor profiles from all over the world and is committed to sourcing local, he says “for the simple fact that local food raised and produced by people who care is better.”

“Most patrons know we promote local products and ingredients. They know that local ingredients tend to taste better and produce that is freshly harvested, is going to have a higher nutrient content. Producing locally and growing locally is a growing trend… it is people taking pride in what they do… it’s craftsmanship!” — Chef Dan Skay

Skay will be creating a new plant-based dish in celebration of Food Day and as his entry in the Health Care Culinary Contest.

Food Day is an annual event on Oct. 24 that inspires Americans to change not only their diets but also our food system. In this spirit, Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth have teamed up with Menus of Change, an initiative of the Culinary Institute of America and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, to judge the first ever Health Care Culinary Contest, designed to celebrate culinary innovation and change the conversation about the kind of food served in hospitals.

The contest, which closes Nov. 30, is an opportunity for hospital chefs, food purchasers, and clinicians to connect and create a recipe that reimagines protein on the plate. For example, Skay is planning a plant-based meal that layers flavors and textures in a way that ensures meat will not be missed. One of his vegetarian creations that is now a standard on Manna’s menu is a dish that features charred carrot with pistachio dukkah, house-made labneh, and roasted dates.

Vegetarian dishes are labeled on Manna’s menu and include flavorful options like chilled strawberry coconut soup, spaghetti with poblano sage pesto, and a vegetarian sandwich with beet hummus, charred peppers, and greens. Extra points will be awarded in the contest for recipes that are entirely plant-based. (Castle Rock Adventist)
To participate in the contest, hospital chefs must create recipes that follow the “Less Meat, Better Meat” approach: reducing meat and poultry purchasing and using those cost savings to purchase more sustainable options.

Americans eat more than twice the global average for meat consumption, and hospital food service often mirrors this trend. Having meat-focused meals comes at a cost: There are significant public and environmental health costs associated with industrialized meat and poultry production.

By adopting the Less Meat, Better Meat philosophy, hospitals can provide health, social, and environmental benefits consistent with prevention-based medicine.

Skay and other hospital chefs around the country are highlighting new recipes in celebration of Food Day and in competition for the grand prize of a trip to CleanMed 2018 May 7–9 in San Diego, Calif. The winning meal will be featured and the chef honored at this national conference.

To gain a competitive edge, Skay has been looking at popular flavor trends from the restaurants around the country and the world. His recipe will be kept under wraps until the contest closes, but Skay says he’s planning a dish that “creates a wonderful experience not only for your mouth, but for your mind, body, and spirit.”


Learn more about the Health Care Culinary Contest. No purchase necessary, void where prohibited. U.S. residents only. Ends 11/30/17. This is not a game of chance; winners selected based on stated criteria. Official Rules and details available here. Sponsored by Health Care Without Harm U.S., 12355 Sunrise Valley Drive, Suite 680, Reston, VA 20191.