CLOSE
Original image
UNC REX Healthcare

Chef Ryan Conklin Is Elevating the Art of Hospital Food

Original image
UNC REX Healthcare

A hospital is one of the last places you might expect to find a great Thanksgiving dinner. But some people are actually choosing to spend their holiday at UNC REX Healthcare, a hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina, just to taste the legendary food. “Someone told me they came there for Thanksgiving last year because they knew they’d get a good meal,” Ryan Conklin, UNC REX's executive chef, tells mental_floss. “It’s the ultimate compliment.”

Conklin joined UNC REX as a chef in 2008 after four years in a managerial role at a New York state healthcare system. Unlike other chefs in the healthcare food service industry, Conklin also has extensive restaurant experience. He graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and went on to work as a chef at New York City’s Four Seasons hotel. His passion for high-quality cuisine is something he brought with him to his current position, and it shows in his menu. 

A typical meal served at UNC might include their signature lime-and-ginger-glazed salmon, or the popular Southern-style pecan-crusted chicken. The kitchen staff tries to source their ingredients locally whenever possible, and they even offer seasonal tasting menus during the warmer months. This summer, patients had the option to order heirloom tomato tasting plates, complete with menu cards describing where each variety was grown.

“We like to see ourselves as leading the way of reinventing modern healthcare cuisine,” says Conklin. “We really care about making sure our patients are fed well. For one moment, we can make them feel like they’re not in a hospital.” 

So far the patient response has been tremendous, but they're not the only ones who’ve taken notice of the quiet culinary revolution happening inside the hospital's kitchen. Two years after he joined the staff, Conklin signed his team up for a competition at Johnson & Wales University to battle against other hospital chefs. They took home the gold medal, which encouraged them to sign up for even more healthcare food service competitions across the country. 

Soon they were being mentioned in industry trade magazines, and then in larger consumer publications such as GQ and Condé Nast Traveler. People began visiting UNC for no other reason than to try the nationally acclaimed hospital food for themselves.

Today, UNC REX isn’t just known for serving great hospital food; they’re known for serving some of the greatest food in the state. This distinction was reinforced on Halloween night, when Conklin led his team of chefs to a final-round victory in the statewide “Got to Be NC” cooking competition. The competitors included 60 of the best fine dining chefs from across North Carolina, and after a year-long competition it was the hospital chefs who were crowned the winners. “A lot of people didn’t think we even deserved be there,” admits Conklin. “Our expertise comes from serving a lot of people every day. I think that ultimately was an advantage for us.” 

Now that he’s upped the culinary game within UNC REX, Conklin hopes to revolutionize the dining experience in hospitals across the country. Serving restaurant-quality meals isn’t as impractical as many healthcare facilities might assume.

By cooking their food from scratch instead of buying pre-packaged meals, Conklin insists his team is actually saving the hospital money in the long run. The secret is for hospitals to invest the time in providing their chefs with professional training, as UNC has done with its Black Hat Chefs program. That way they will be able to make the most of whatever ingredients they have. “A lot of places out there might not have the culinary talent to utilize, let’s say, the ends of the tomato,” Conklin explains. “Let’s turn those tomato ends into a fire-roasted tomato salsa! We try to create a culture that says, 'Let’s save everything and make the most out of it.'"

Representatives from healthcare organizations have come from all over to learn from the chefs at UNC. And Conklin and his team regularly visit hospitals to work with their culinary staffs and inspire them to produce elevated hospital cuisine. He hopes to one day find a way to provide his healthcare cuisine to patients on a broader scale. But for now, Conklin is focused on giving patients a Thanksgiving they’ll never forget. Says Conklin: "Just because you’re in a hospital cafeteria doesn’t mean you can’t have an excellent roast turkey."

All images courtesy of UNC REX Healthcare
Original image
iStock
arrow
Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
Original image
iStock

According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

Original image
iStock
arrow
fun
How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
Original image
iStock

If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios