Breakfast, lunch and dinner for 250 people? Although many would panic, Thomas Frost did not even break out in a sweat. The 52-year-old executive chef joined the Bermuda Hospitals Board in September. For the first time in his career, flavour and presentation took a back seat to the nutritional value of meals. However, the award-winning chef did not sacrifice taste completely. It is not unusual for patients at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital to ask for his recipes ó the mahi-mahi with mango pineapple salsa is particularly popular.
Q: Have you always been interested in cooking?
A: As a child l spent a lot of time in the kitchen helping my mother, an amazing chef. She would encourage me to blend flavours and think of alternative ways to cook and present foods. She said I was a natural in the kitchen. Cooking was always fun and I associated it with being happy. As I got older I realised that l wanted to become a professional chef and take what I had already learnt to the next level and make the culinary arts my career.
Q: Where are you from? How did you end up here?
A: Iím from Weymouth, a seaside town in Dorset [in the south of England]. I was working at a restaurant in London, Les Giroc. One of the regular customers there [worked in the corporate division of Princess Hotels & Resorts]. At the time I did a lot of tableside cooking. We got to chatting and he mentioned Bermuda. I didnít know anything about it. I had heard of the Bermuda Triangle and Bermuda shorts, but that was it. Six weeks later I was here. I worked at the Southampton Princess for 14 years, from 1990-2004, and was executive chef at the Hamilton Princess for ten years, from 2004-2014 and then I joined the Mid Ocean Club. I came to the hospital in September 2016.
Q: About how many people do you cook for everyday?
A: Thereís about 250 people for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Staff prepare between 600 and 700 meals per day. Most people donít realise the magnitude of what we have to keep on-site. We need inventory for at least a week in case of a hurricane [or another emergency]. Thereís probably millionsí worth of produce here at any one point.
Q: How much help do you have?
A: We have 20 full and part-time cooks and we also have porters, prep aides, dietary aides, dietitians and supervisors ó roughly 100 people.
Our menus are rotated on a two-week cycle. We do a tasting panel and go through nutritional analysis before every [meal] period to make sure itís up to standard and the cooks are doing what theyíre supposed to be doing. Because itís all about patient care, you have to be careful how you cook, the temperature itís served at, the nutritional value. You have to follow recipes to the word. One little slip up throws everything out of whack. But we have a good team here and they have all been here quite a while.
Q: Was there a huge learning curve for you, cooking for patients rather than customers in a restaurant?
A: The only way I can describe it is they are the same, but totally different at the same time. I think of patients as guests who deserve the finest quality of food and nutrition we can offer them, but there is a different demographic; thereís nutritional standards we have to meet.
I donít get to play with all the fun foods: foie gras, butter and cream. Because everything is measured to the milligram, I have to be creative in a different way ó with flavour, texture and colour ó without compromising patient care.
Itís educated me quite a bit on the healthy aspects of eating. But the real challenge for me was to turn around the perception that hospital food is below par; to get the cooks in the kitchen excited. Iíve been so long in hospitality, it was a challenge I wanted to take.
Q: Whatís a good day like?
A: Itís a productive day. Thereís a good vibe in the kitchen and people are excited and passionate about what theyíre doing. Theyíre happy to be here and talking about food ó and we have happy patients. The ward aides, when they pick up the food trays, get feedback. Sometimes they get people asking for recipes. One of our popular ones is mahi-mahi with mango pineapple salsa. If one dish is not performing, we take it out and we have put some requests in. I like to see trolleys come back down with no food left on them. But weíre always looking to improve.
Q: How has your new knowledge played out in the kitchen at home?
A: My wife is coeliac so we were eating well, but now eat even cleaner ó with a lot less desserts.
Q: Had you ever been a patient at KEMH?
A: I was a patient for one night. I had a deviated septum about five years ago. In my younger days I played a lot of rugby and I think over time I got knocked round a bit too much. I was getting nosebleeds, so I went to a specialist [who recommended surgery]. I didnít eat as I had no appetite. I only drank.
Q: Whatís your favourite food?
A: I love seafood. So versatile. Lends itself to lots of different applications and pairs well with lots of different flavours.
ē Look for the KEMH mahi-mahi recipe under related media