In his previous life as a hotel and restaurant chef, we're guessing Chad Gray got used to hearing, "My compliments to the chef." But he probably never had a stocking-footed young boy chase him down the hallway, saying, "You have to teach me how to make that!" But this is the kind of heartfelt praise he gets at the Mayo Clinic Children's Center, where Gray is finding new ways to put his culinary skills to good use.
"I'm trying to make a positive impact where I can," says Gray, who recently became executive chef at Mayo Clinic Hospital's Saint Marys campus. And as he's learned more about life as a patient, Gray has been moved to find small ways to help ease the burden of hospital life. One way he's doing that is by bringing a mobile "smoothie cart" to the rooms of pediatric patients. "It's a way to engage with the kids," he tells us.
Gray's first foray onto the pediatric floor involved a pancake breakfast. He set up a griddle and kid-friendly fixings, including whipped cream, chocolate chips and sprinkles. But he says he "fed more parents than kids" and discovered that many of the children had dietary restrictions or low appetites. Another roadblock was that many patients couldn't leave their hospital rooms to come to where he was cooking. He decided to try making smoothies instead, and to deliver them room-service style. It's turned out to be a recipe for success.
"The kids love the smoothies," says Gray, who takes bedside orders for custom creations made from Greek yogurt, fresh fruit and chocolate. Parents love them, too. "The parents get pretty excited to see their kid pump down a smoothie," Gray tells us. He's been going to the floor about once a month and plans to make more frequent visits — hopefully with a "tricked out" smoothie cart. ("It needs some bling," he tells us.)
Gray's culinary talent isn't limited to smoothies — or to kids. He also prepares special meals for patients awaiting transplants, some who face a year or more of hospitalization. "We ask them what they want — steak, lobster, Hot Pockets — and I make it," he says. When it's time for dinner, he "rolls in with a cart, tight and tall" (we're guessing that's chef- speak) and serves the meals "just like something you'd get in a nice restaurant." (We're stuck on "Hot Pockets.") Gray says this "extracurricular" effort (the transplant meals happen on his own time) is all about seeing a patient's response. "It does a lot for them," he says. "People aren't happy to be in the hospital. This is something positive we can do for them."
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