Mise En Place, a French (culinary) term for having "everything in place", is probably the most important word in any food-related business and yet you probably never heard of it. For most customers, we often only notice what is in right front of us and rarely celebrate the countless hours spent making those dishes presented to us. We want to help put a spotlight to the sacrifices many chefs put in behind closed doors (or to be more precise, shutters).
In our third feature, we follow Chef Catan Tan, Group Executive Chef of IHH Healthcare, Singapore's largest private hospital chain, as he goes about a typical day in overseeing up to 4,000 meals across 4 hospitals in Singapore daily.
We join the hospital for a reason. It's not for the glory. We are here for one simple reason, giving back to the community.
Working as a Chef in a hospital
Before taking the helm at IHH Healthcare, Chef Catan spent two decades working in different hotels across the globe. However, even with his vast experiences, he admitted that joining IHH Healthcare was a challenge never like anything he had ever faced before. Creating a dish is no longer just following any trendy social media dish that one can whip up in 20 minutes but even creating the simplest of dishes for hospital patients will require a very thorough process of consult with professional dieticians and nutritionists because there are just too many things to avoid. So no more shortcuts with MSG, chicken powder or any powder for the matter. Chicken soups are made from scratch with chicken carcasses, vegetables like soy, onions, and just water. Something I found really interesting was the high standard of hygiene and well-established protocols that everyone followed to a tee such as having a specific elevator for food (very strictly no patients). Even after getting through the steep learning curve in the beginning, there will always be a constant need to be adaptable and on your feet to cater to the many different patients that come in and out of the hospital every day.
No more boring hospital food
Realizing that patients (as anyone would) dread bland pre-cooked set meals, Chef Catan decided to revamp the entire menu and introduce dishes that once only existed in hotels and restaurants with the help of the many medical professionals in IHH Healthcare. Moreover, keeping true to his mission of wanting to make food something hospital patients can always look forward to, Chef Catan also created Singapore's first ala-carte menu amongst hospitals, whereby patients can choose what they would like to eat from an extensive menu (if their medical conditions permits, of course). This is the simple reason to why Gleneagles serves Lobster & Chicken Claypot Rice, Wagyu Beef Cheek Rendang and even Double Boiled Abalone Soup. P.S., I don't remember any hotel room service that served that kind of food...
A truly passionate chef
Something incredibly inspiring about Chef Catan is that you can feel his passion for food by simply talking to him. The care that he takes from understanding exactly what patients need to the extra mile he goes to fulfill patients' wishes whenever he can show clearly the level of dedication he has to serve all his patients. From serving a whole steamed garoupa for a patient who spent her Chinese New Year in the hospital to baking a 3-tier wedding cake and canapes for a bed-ridden patient who wanted to marry their significant other, it always goes back to his mission, to make food something patient can look forward to during their hospital stay because no one is at the hospital by choice or for leisure. So, even if it takes cooking up a storm to help fulfill a patient's last meal request or having to create another version of a dish because of dietary constraints, I am certain that whoever stays in any of IHH Healthcare's hospitals will always be able to look forward to their meals because of Chef Catan's passion.