A Day in the Life: Curtis Stevens, R.D.N., Michigan Medicine executive chef

October 5, 2020  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees,

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More than 2,000 times per day, a patient at Michigan Medicine will order a meal with Patient Food and Nutrition Services from the department’s restaurant-style menu.

That will trigger a chain reaction, involving call center representatives, cooks and tray delivery personnel.

But the entire process begins well before an order is placed — and much of the responsibility regarding what is offered on the food service menu falls on the organization’s executive chef, Curtis Stevens, R.D.N.

Stevens joined the organization six years ago and has worked his way up from chef assistant to dietetic intern and now to executive chef, a role he began just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To kick off Health Care Food Service Workers Week, here’s a look at a “typical” day for Stevens, though he acknowledges right away that no day is ever the same.

7:30 a.m.: Stevens arrives at the University Hospital kitchen and immediately checks his email, responding to any issues that may have arisen overnight.

8 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.: Stevens meets with PFANS Director Kit Werner, along with associate directors Diane Knibbs and Sara Tutor.

“This is when a lot of our department- and organization-wide initiatives are discussed,” Stevens said. “For instance, we recently launched a new selection of Halal and Kosher foods, and this would be the type of thing we meet about with the departmental leadership team.”

9:30 a.m. – 10 a.m.: Stevens checks in with the kitchen staff at UH to make sure they have all the supplies and equipment they need for the day.

“I spend most of my time at UH, but at least 2-3 times a week I make my way over to the C&W kitchen,” Stevens said. “I always want to make sure I’m in tune with their staff as well, since cooking for children brings with it a whole unique set of challenges.”

As part of his rounding, Stevens meets with managers and staff to address food quality concerns or potential equipment issues.

10 a.m.: Stevens receives an email regarding a product switch that the organization was forced to make. This leads to him quickly revising a recipe.

11 a.m.: It’s time for a regular meeting with the staff from Meals on Wheels, which is based at Michigan Medicine.

“We serve roughly 350-400 clients in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti communities,” Stevens said. “So I will assist the MOW staff when it comes to addressing quality issues or possibly substituting food items if we end up not having enough of a certain product to serve all of our clients.”

11:30 a.m.: As lunch time begins in earnest, Stevens checks in with team members on the tray line and takes a look and tastes some of the food to ensure quality. He also checks ticket times to make sure the food is being prepared and delivered in a timely manner.

12:30 p.m.: After a quick break to grab lunch himself, Stevens is back to work, this time checking on what are referred to as “cook chill operations.”

“We produce hundreds of pounds of sauces and soups in the UH kitchen,” Stevens explained. “That takes a lot of preparation, functioning equipment and patience, so I check in with the cook responsible and make sure she has what she needs and that everything is going smoothly.”

1 p.m.: On this day, Stevens is leading instruction on food safety for those who work in the kitchens.

“On other days, I might work with dietetic interns to help them understand the food service side of dietetics,” Stevens said. “I also work with them on their recipe development projects that are required as part of the internship guidelines.”

2 p.m.: Speaking of recipe development, Stevens goes back to the kitchen to go over some new recipes that he is working on.

“We’re working on trying to increase our plant-based options for patients,” Stevens said. “It’s vital that I’m able to stay on top of the latest food trends in order to give our patients the foods they enjoy, which will improve their overall experience at Michigan Medicine.”

Stevens also said he maintains a list of existing recipes that he’d like to improve or enhance based on patient feedback.

“When developing a recipe, I work with a group of individuals from all different areas of our department, from the cooks and managers in the kitchens, to dietitians on the nutrition services side of it, as well as programmers to properly input recipes into our system.”

3 p.m.: Before wrapping up for the day, Stevens has a conversation with the call center managers. This is how he can find out if there were any concerns regarding food quality or service, which the team can then work to address. He also will pass on any compliments the department received that day.

“I think what I love most about my job is how many different roles I get to play,” Stevens said. “Things are constantly changing in our kitchens — from the equipment we use to the food we offer to the educational opportunities we deliver. That’s what makes it exciting and why I am always looking forward to coming into the kitchen and getting to work.”