The Picture of Health: Chef Russ Ficke talks about a passion for healthy food
Syosset Hospital Chef Russ Ficke has had a transformational healthcare journey as part of our team. He’s lost 50 pounds by exercising and looking at food in a different way. His drive to make healthy lifestyle changes and better food choices have also helped him become even more passionate about his work as a hospital chef. That’s why we couldn’t wait to share his perspective on our wellness initiatives, get the scoop on the quality of chefs Northwell Health is looking to hire, and hear his advice for those starting out in the culinary industry.
What’s it like to be Chef at Syosset Hospital?
It is a real honor to be able to care for people who are giving you the opportunity to make them healthier. Most of our patients at Syosset Hospital choose to come here for a procedure. They selected us over many other facilities. We must rise to the occasion in service and hospitality in every instance.
What advice do you have for someone just starting out in a career in your field?
Work hard and learn every aspect of the culinary industry — beyond dining, travel and tourism. I have worked in fine dining, catering halls, country clubs and hotels. I also taught Culinary Arts at a vocational school. There are many institutional facets of this industry. By accumulating knowledge of these various business lines, I am a more rounded chef.
What should people know about your team? How does this speak to the quality of chefs that Northwell Health is looking to hire?
I am grateful to work with a group of professionals who share the same focus: providing world-class service to our patients, visitors, and coworkers. I partner with my leadership team, as well as with the clinical nutrition team, to assure we are delivering the best service. I spend a lot of time with my culinary team teaching them new techniques, trends, and skills. I even learn things from them.
What is Northwell’s Ultimate Chef Competition?
Chefs from 17 of Northwell Health hospitals have competed in the Ultimate Chef Healthy Cooking Competition for the past seven years at Glen Cove Hospital. Chefs are challenged with serving up delicious, restaurant-quality meals, but without the added high fat, calories or sodium. I have three first-place finishes and a third-place finish. For the past two years, I’ve helped run the event instead of competing in it.
Each appetizer and dessert had to be less than 250 calories with no more than 250 milligrams of sodium and less than 35 percent total calories from fat. Entrees needed to be under 450 calories, with no more than 500 milligrams of sodium and 35 percent of total calories from fat. Teams are also sometimes given a mystery ingredient to incorporate into their original three-course meal.
How do you as a Chef promote Northwell Health’s commitment to wellness?
Northwell health is committed to providing healthy meals and options to our 66,000+ employees. This focus on wellness extends from our patients to our cafeterias and internal catering, all the way to our vending machines. We also provide educational sessions and cooking classes around these initiatives to promote healthier nutrition.
What is something that people should know about Northwell Health as an employer that they might not know already?
Northwell Health values and promotes many different training opportunities to assist us in our career growth. I am fortunate to work for an organization that invests in me.
At Northwell, we’re flexible and not afraid to push boundaries. So, the forecast and eventual onset of rain that showed up at the finale of this year’s employee Rally didn’t stop our team members from making unforgettable memories together and celebrating the “Story of us.” There was nothing but sunny and smiling faces at the Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater on Saturday, July 21 when thousands of Northwell team members gathered for this incredible event.
This year’s Rally was all about storytelling and started at the Wellgate, our healthy version of a tailgate. In the “Story of Us” zone, guests could visit “Did You Know?” tents to learn about different initiatives for Northwell team members– such as myWellness, the Gift of Life (Northwell’s organ donation partnership program) and the work of our Foundation (we are a non-profit after all).
It was in this zone that Northwell even beat a world record! Rally guests worked together to help Northwell break the Guinness World Record for the most color by number contributions. 829 participants colored in a giant mural depicting our health system, beating the previous record of 455 participants.
In the “Story of Life” zone, Rally guests experienced the power of connection. Here guests could taste healthy choice recipes crafted by 12 Northwell chefs from our hospitals. They also discovered the healing power of pet therapy, getting the opportunity to meet with Northwell’s furriest team members. Poetry was also part of the day, with poets writing a personalized haiku for guests based on their own stories.
Rally guests could then walk through the different features highlighting our “Stores of Curiosity”. Guests could participate in training in an ambulance simulator or support one of Northwell’s next innovations by signing the “What if” wall which gave an inside look into some of our health system’s next big ideas. The zone’s Hall of Innovation was another big hit at the Rally. From a telehealth bike that gives patients access to supervised pulmonary rehabilitation therapy remotely, to a Northwell Health skill for Amazon Alexa that delivers current wait times for our patients, Northwell’s team members are developing innovations that will help shape the future of health care.
Other featured initiatives included: the Fin (the first 3D-printed, amphibious, prosthetic leg that allows amputee swimmers to navigate in and out of the water), Bottle Cap (an app that provides patients with automated text messaging and online coaching to learn about and reduce their consumption of alcoholic beverages,) and Project Polaris (a multi-year journey to reimagine HR processes).
In our “Stories of Celebration” zone, we celebrated our diverse and growing team of more than 66,000, including the stories of our President’s Awards winners and finalists, service awards recipients, and those who volunteered for service in last year’s Hurricane Harvey and Maria relief efforts. Our employees are so much more than their scrubs and stethoscopes and Rally guests were able to look, listen, touch and feel the exceptional stories of their fellow team members in our immersive display celebrating Northwell’s every day heroes.
Finally, at the Activity Stage, employees moved to the beat at the Zumba class led by a Northwell team member, Daniel Manalo, and danced to the music of the Hot Seeds, our very own physician band.
After the Wellgate experience, attendees entered the amphitheater for the main show, an experience that won’t soon be forgotten. From a guest speaker to President’s Awards Winner tributes to the grand prize drawing of our employee walk challenge to special performances, team members danced and cheered all night long.
It of course wouldn’t be a Rally without Michael J. Dowling, Northwell’s President and CEO. It’s not often your CEO make their big entrance on a boat! His remarks, as always, inspired everyone in attendance and he reminded team members to continue to innovate for our patients and our community.
Advancing Northwell’s spirit of innovation was the Rally’s guest speaker, Mick Ebeling. Mick founded Not Impossible Labs and works hard to expand the possibilities of technology to provide solutions for fundamental human needs, causing waves in and out of the world of healthcare. His powerful speech inspired Northwell employees to continue to view the world differently and to challenge the idea of impossible.
Closing the 2018 Northwell Rally was a spectacular performance from Michael Elroy and the Broadway Inspirational Voices and a moving display from The Silhouettes.
The excitement in the air was contagious, with team members feeling reinvigorated for what lies ahead. Of course, the excitement was never higher than when it came time to announce the big winners for the Walk to Dublin employee step challenge. The winning team was announced, with all ten members receiving a free trip to Dublin. But that wasn’t all – as a surprise, two more teams were awarded the grand prize for a total of thirty employees headed to Dublin!
As the event came to a close, there was one impassioned thought running through the crowd: we can’t wait to see what the Story of Us brings next year!
Under the bold and delicious vision of Northwell Health’s VP of System Food Services Corporate Michelin Chef, Bruno Tison, the recipe for hospital food as you once knew it has changed. Michelin Chef Tison, along with other award-winning Michelin chefs like Andrew Cain, is helping Northwell Health redefine the culinary experience for patients, their families, and Northwell employees.
“I want to help cook better food for people who really need it,” says Chef Tison, “Northwell Health is a pioneer for redefining hospital food for 23 hospitals.”
A recipe for culinary success.
A native of northern France, Chef Bruno Tison began his culinary education at Belgium’s prestigious Institut Technique Des Metiers De L’Alimentation, where he graduated with highest honors and was awarded first prize for excellence in culinary achievement. His more than 30 years of experience includes serving as Executive Chef of the legendary Plaza Hotel in New York City. Chef Tison’s nouvelle cuisine has earned critical acclaim. Most recently, his leadership enabled the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa in California to receive the celebrated Michelin Star recognition for three consecutive years.
Chef Andrew Cain started working under an executive chef at the age of 15, received a Bachelor’s degree in Hotel Restaurant Management and went to work at the Fairmont with Chef Tison 10 years ago. They’ve made a great team ever since. This relationship is now helping to dramatically elevate Northwell Health’s food experience.
The two believe that crafting delicious meals shouldn’t change by location. “Whether it’s a patient in a bed, or a person in the restaurant,” says Chef Cain, “when it comes to cooking great food, you truly have to care about it.”
Redefining the culinary experience.
Having reached the pinnacle of the culinary profession, Chefs Tison and Cain were looking for a new challenge and the opportunity to bring the highest level of culinary expression not just to people who could “afford it” but to people who truly needed it, people whose lives could be changed by a world-class food experience.
That’s why Chef Tison joined Northwell Health and later brought Chef Cain onboard, with Chef Tison stating, “I came to Northwell because they are very serious about making this shift in the healthcare food industry happen.”
Chef Tison has championed a number of important initiatives for Northwell’s culinary efforts:
Bring outstanding talent from the outside and retrain existing chefs.
Having worked with Chef Tison for 10+ years, Chef Andrew Cain shared his passion for elevating the food experience for people who genuinely need it. With a background in Four- and Five-Star restaurants in New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., Chef Cain is helping Chef Tison bring a Michelin-inspired sensibility to Northwell Health. Northwell is also partnering with the Culinary Institute of America to attract the next generation of great chefs.
Knowing that Northwell is a place known for the most innovative clinical technology, Chef Tison is bringing this same commitment to modernizing the food service area.
Higher quality food.
This includes fresh, locally-sourced food instead of frozen, replacing instant coffee with fresh coffee, getting rid of candies/sugar and eliminating processed food.
Chef Tison’s ultimate goal is to deliver restaurant-quality food to patients, families and staff. “It’s a new frontier,” says Chef Tison, “and that’s exciting for new and tenured chefs alike.” He even has an eye on applying for inclusion in the Michelin Guide!
At Northwell Health, we already stand out as one of the Best Workplaces™ in Health Care and Biopharma. Now we’re aiming to be the healthiest. Our leadership is focused on food and nutrition as well as fitness and mental wellbeing initiatives to build a healthier workplace for all our employees.
“In the past few years, we’ve been able to do more in food and nutrition to create a better, more effective infrastructure for wellness at work and it’s because we’ve had a lot of great support from leadership.”
–Michelle Milgrim, Employee Wellness Manager
It all starts with the ingredients. Over the past two years, we’ve worked to ensure that our chicken, turkey and beef burgers are 100 percent antibiotic free. Our fish is sustainably sourced and harvested and we work, as much as possible, with local farms across Long Island, NJ and the Hudson Valley to source local produce. Through Community Supported Agriculture, employees are given the opportunity to get local produce – freshly harvested that morning — delivered weekly to their offices.
With great ingredients, we need great chefs. Northwell Health has four Michelin Star chefs that are driving chef talent development including our new AVP, system food services Bruno Tison. Our new partnership with the Culinary Institute of America’s fellowship program is going to bring culinary students into our pipeline of talent.
Now that we have put wellness on our plates and in our kitchens, we’re focusing on wellness in other areas. For starters? We want employees to be eating well at home. So, we’ve invested in teaching kitchens and work in close collaboration with chefs and registered dietitian teams to create hands-on demonstrations that have become a popular, accessible tool for staff. And we’re supporting these initiatives by providing healthier options throughout our facilities, not just the patient and cafeteria menu. We’re updating our coffee shops, gift shops, and vending machines so that the default options at our facilities will be healthy ones.
Though these changes are already making an impact to our employees’ wellness, they’re not the only lifestyle initiatives that we’re putting in place to support the wellbeing of our people. We’re putting our best foot forward through on-site stairwell and fitness campaigns and corporate walking challenges like our Walk to Dublin contest. As we pursue promoting wellness for our bodies, we also seek wellness for our mental health. We offer opportunities for stress management at our sites through guided meditation and reiki, and simply giving our employees time to unwind. We’re also making our facilities mom-friendly. By August, all of our sites will be equipped with dedicated lactation rooms to make pumping at work more accessible and comfortable for mothers.
At Northwell, every role matters, every person matters and every healthy moment matters. We’re invested in our employees’ health, inside and out and we continuously strive toward making our facilities a more nutritious, fit-friendly and welcoming place to work.
Be part of this transformation. See where you fit in here.
It is the policy of Northwell Health to provide equal employment opportunity and treat all employees equally regardless of age, race, creed/religion, color, national origin, alienage or citizenship status, sexual orientation, military or veteran status, sex/gender, gender identity, gender expression, disability, generic information or genetic predisposition or carrier status, marital status, partnership status, victim of domestic violence, or other characteristics protected by applicable law. Northwell Health leaders, including the CEO, are committed to the principles of Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action.