Hospital food can be delicious and healthy

A chat with one of America’s top hospital chefs

Norbert Bomm, Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s corporate executive chef, accepted the award for the Health Care Culinary Contest at CleanMed, where attendees enjoyed the winning dish. (Practice Greenhealth).

Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth are proud to present the award for the Health Care Culinary Contest to Northwestern Memorial Hospital for their red dahl recipe. Created by Norbert Bomm, the hospital’s corporate executive chef, this recipe showed culinary creativity and sustainable food sourcing, exemplifying how hospital food can be healthy for people and the planet.

Bomm accepted the award at CleanMed, where attendees enjoyed the winning dish. The recipe will also be acknowledged at the 2018 Menus of Change Summit hosted by the Culinary Institute of America.

Eight exceptional recipes rose to the top of the inaugural contest, linking the health of people and planet by incorporating a wide variety of ingredients that were healthy, plant-forward, locally sourced, and third-party sustainably certified.

Congratulations to our winner, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, four finalists and three honorable mentions:


  • Lehigh Valley Health Network’s turkey grain bowl
  • Norton Healthcare’s miso noodle and veggie bowl
  • University of Wisconsin Health’s jackfruit teriyaki
  • Virginia Mason Memorial Hospital’s butternut squash enchiladas

Honorable mentions

  • Castle Rock Adventist Hospital’s mushroom aquachile
  • City of Hope National Medical Center’s quinoa stuffed pepper
  • Licking Memorial Hospital’s garden inspired stew
Download slideshow

Meet the award-winning chef

Why do you think hospital food gets a bad rap?

If you want to have a healthier lifestyle you have to make some adjustments. We all know that eating, high-sodium, excessive fat, high-calorie foods aren’t good for your health. Morrison has been addressing this for years by serving functional, nutritionally balanced meals.

However, you don’t have to have to sacrifice flavor by eating healthier meals. Food in the absence of flavor and passion will quickly lose its appeal.

Secondly, we need to create food from scratch, using fresh wholesome ingredients, using proven healthy cooking methods and ingredients that are seasonal and harvested in a socially responsible manner. I prefer to utilize herbs and spices that can be used instead of salt to reduce sodium.

There is a conscious effort from our chefs and nutrition experts that work closely together, to create delicious sustainable restaurant-style food for our patients.

I have total confidence that the food we serve to our patients could be the same — and in many cases is the same — as what we serve in our hospital cafes to visitors and employees.

Why did you choose to become a chef?

I am a chef because I grew up in the restaurant business in Germany. My parents had a restaurant there and I lived and breathed the business. I started cooking when I was young. Cooking is a demanding job but at the same time, it is a rewarding job. Chefs can be creative with what they do and it feels good to make people happy serving great tasting food.

Why be a hospital chef instead of in a restaurant?

I worked all my life in restaurants, on four different continents. A friend of mine called me one day and told me about a position at a hospital. I was looking for a healthier lifestyle with work-life balance. I talked to Morrison and Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago and took the job as the executive chef. I worked as the research and development chef for six years for Morrison and I am now the corporate executive chef at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and the Chicago accounts. I came from a background of restaurants and had the opportunity to apply my cooking knowledge to a health care setting. It was the right thing to do.

What is your approach to hospital food?

We need to start with good quality food. In Chicago, we work with Midwest Foods, an awesome local produce company that has been family owned for generations. Great people that are very passionate about local sustainable produce.

With Midwest Foods, we have connections to 30 to 35 farmers in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. It’s important that my chefs have a relationship with farmers. We visit the farmers and have a healthy dialog about what can be offered, “by the way rhubarb is in season right now,” a farmer might say. It’s important to us that we are supporting the local farmers and during the growing seasons we purchase locally.

Midwest Foods local partner farms, many of which supply Northwestern Memorial and other Chicago-area hospitals (courtesy of Norbert Bomm).

Why did you participate in the contest?

I thought it was a challenge. I am up for challenges. We have been talking about plant-based food and pulses and cooking with them for some time. I was running the red dahl recipe at Northwestern before the competition. We strongly believe in the plant-based diet. We bake muffins with chickpeas and add applesauce. I could tell you about our success stories such as brownies with black beans. To jump into this recipe contest was a natural thing to do.

Why plant-based?

People are demanding it. If you look at the plant-based diet. It’s a common sense diet that goes back to the basics. Mom was right when she said veggies were good for you.

I believe that education will make a difference. This knowledge tells you why a plant-based diet is good for you and what does it do for the environment.

Why did you choose this recipe?

Because I love it. I cook it at home. It’s so good. It’s easy to execute. It makes you feel good when you eat it. The nutritional attributes are awesome: high in fiber, low in sodium. I cook it for friends when they come over.

I worked in Dubai for two years. My kitchen was full of cooks from India. Cooking ethnic food from Sri Lanka and India was awesome, from that experience, I learned a lot about curries and the benefits of spices.

Learn more about Northwestern’s Red Dahl.

How did the recipe go over at your hospital?

Really well. The response from patients has been very positive. The recipe has its own story and is full of great flavor. We serve it in our cafes too and it sells extremely well. We did a tasting allowing patrons to sample it and also had a photo of the dish. The cafe chef has the same tools as the catering associate so they can have a dialog with patrons about the dish.

What was your reaction to learning you won?

Oh wow! I think all of the chefs who submitted are all winners. I know all of the chefs put time, effort, and commitment into their recipes.

Northwestern and Morrison leadership are very excited. Winning the contest validates what we have been doing in the past with plant-based meals.

The red dahl recipe will be featured in the future in all Morrison Hospitals on our core patient menus across the country. I think there will be a huge spike in this meal being served. Having the recipe available to our 767 accounts and chefs across the country makes me proud and is extremely exciting.

Would you recommend participating in the contest to other hospital chefs?

Yes, it challenges each chef to think out of the box. It starts building relationships between chefs, the nutritional teams, and the farmers.

The contest — and serving plant-based dishes — challenges and inspires your team to serve food that is functional, nutritionally balanced, from quality ingredients, and makes your customers happy.

The collaboration between dietitians and chefs wasn’t new for us. Over the last couple of years this has become a driving force for the teams to work as a unit. Within our hospital systems, there are 1,200 dieticians. Teams of chefs and dietitians work extremely close together creating meals that are alive with flavor and nutrition.

The culinary team might be thinking about a recipe from a quality and execution standpoint asking questions like: Can it be executed, is the flavor right? Does it meet the needs of the demographics? Then the magic happens, the chefs and the dieticians connect, creating a nutritionally balanced recipe that is full of flavor.

We create recipes every day, but if you look at it in reality, our customers are telling us that they want. You need to think about what your patients ask for, and most important, what makes them happy and feel good.

Hungry for more recipes from Bomm? Check out his personal blog.


A special thanks for the support of Menus of Change and the Seattle Culinary Academy, whose partnership and expertise made the Health Care Culinary Contest a valuable source of culinary inspiration to health care chefs nationally seeking to source and serve healthy and sustainable food that is innovative and delicious.

Thank you also to contest sponsors Compass/Food Buy and Sysco.

Above all, thank you to the many hospital food professionals who submitted to the contest. You met with farmers and other producers to source local and sustainable foods. You collaborated with clinicians, nutritionists, and other experts at your facilities to create meals that balanced nutrition with flavor and took the health and environmental impacts of the recipe ingredients into consideration. You demonstrated — once and for all — that hospital food could rise above cliche and delight the senses with meals that comfort and satisfy and stand aside those served at gourmet restaurants.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade