Daniel, our chef at Michael Sobell House, takes great pride in his work and each meal he creates. As with all aspects of our care his cooking style is based around each person who stays with us. Below Daniel reflects on his role and the importance of tailoring each meal.
“I first started cooking in a hospice because after my long career as a chef, I decided that I wanted to give something back. So, I wanted to learn and understand what happens in a hospice and see whether I could do some good by catering in one.
“I always try to put myself in people’s shoes and understand what they are thinking. If people are reserved or maybe a bit shy, I can see that and I always make sure to meet them where they are at. This is especially true when I am trying to understand why someone at the hospice might not be eating or what they might want to eat instead.”
“Other than soups, I never cook food in batches, each meal is prepared fresh every day. Even if only one person staying in the IPU wants to eat a specific meal then I will make sure that it is available on the menu.
A person centred approach
“On a daily basis I meet each patient, and I always have an idea of what they had to eat before. I have a very good memory for people and the meals I have cooked them. I make sure that I am asking the person and those they are with what their eating habits have been like in the past.
“I always want to understand the full picture of a person; why they have come to Michael Sobell House, their physical symptoms, their emotional wellbeing, if there are specific foods that they really want, or reasons why they are struggling to eat.”
Personal meals created with care and compassion
“There was one man who came in and I recognised him from about four months ago when he stayed with us before. His family told me that he was only eating soup at home. So, I had a chat with him about this, because I don’t just want people here to eat soup! And I found out what he would eat and so I cooked that for him.
“I sourced a small piece of cod and poached it until it was very tender, with some creamy mash and very fine parsley sauce. Since I knew this gentleman struggled with his throat, I made sure that everything in that meal would be very easy to swallow. And he ate it all.
“I always tell people who ask me about my cooking style at the hospice that I cook at the level of a five star restaurant and that the food is of the quality you would find in one. But that five star level is designed around each person. So, whilst one person may be having a solid piece of fish with mash, someone else may have that same meal but in a pureed diet form. And I regularly liaise with our Matron, nurses, and HCAs to ensure that everyone is receiving the correct level of diet and portion size. I use a lot of mixers, blenders, and hand blenders to cater to the different dietary needs of everyone.
An experience for all the senses
“The enjoyment of food and eating isn’t only about the physical act of eating it either. A lot of the experience is connected to how a meal looks and what it smells like. Most people actually eat with their eyes before they starting eating the food itself! So that is another thing that is really important in my work, making sure that every meal I make is presented nicely and engages all the senses.”
Below, Isabel, a woman who has been staying at our Inpatient Unit, describes the food she has been having and the evident time and care that goes into each meal.
A rewarding job
Often when people first come to the hospice or just think about hospices and hospice care in general, they think that the food will be the same as what you would get at a hospital but that isn’t true. There is so much time spent in a hospice – across all our services and teams – just getting to know each person and how they want to live their life. And when you have a lot of pride in your skills and a strong reputation for your food you have to manipulate that skill to reflect who you are cooking for and where you are cooking.
I have learnt a lot whilst working with hospices. I can’t think of anything better than having that kind of satisfaction in the work that I do and in the work that all our teams at Harlington Hospice do. This tiny little bit that I contribute adds to everything everyone does: the Clinical Team, the volunteers, the Fundraising Team, the cleaners, our Wellbeing Team, Psychological & Emotional Support Team, and Admin Team. There is a lot of respect held by everyone here.