In January, Seattle Children’s brought on Ryan Garcia to serve as the hospital’s first chef focused exclusively on patient meals. With more than 25 years of experience in the food service industry, Garcia’s goal is to change the perception of hospital food by working with patients and their families to create natural, healthy dishes based on familiar, home-cooked meals. He also plans to focus on using organic, locally-sourced foods that come from the hospital’s organic garden and broader community.
“The meals we create are about so much more than the recipe — it’s about making food part of the patients’ overall healing experience,” Garcia said. “If our patients are happy and enjoying what they eat, that’s also one less thing parents have to worry about.”
Chef Garcia’s Road to Seattle Children’s
Chef Garcia’s passion for cooking began at a young age. His grandfather was a butcher and he spent a lot of time cooking with his mother as a kid. Garcia followed this interest and attended culinary school when he was 24 and a few years later landed a role with Wolfgang Puck.
“The Wolfgang Puck team showed me the amazing world of local, organic food,” he said. “We made regular trips to the farmer’s market and I started to learn the basics about using local meat and produce way before the organic movement started.”
After building his foundation with the Wolfgang Puck team, Garcia transitioned out of the restaurant business and joined the Whole Foods team where he worked for 10 years.
“At Whole Foods I started to realize that the organic food movement wasn’t just a trend, but truly a new way of life,” he said. “The experience really broadened my knowledge and experience with local, organic, sustainable foods across the board.”
Following a stint with Arizona State University, Garcia and his family set their sights on moving to the Pacific Northwest. After seeing that Seattle Children’s was hiring and was moving to integrate more organic, wholesome foods, he knew the position was right up his alley.
“At that point in my career, I didn’t just want to cook cool food for people who wanted it, I wanted to cook therapeutic foods for kids who need it,” he said.
A former Seattle resident, Seattle Children’s also held a special place in his heart.
“My daughter was born in Seattle in 2007, and when she became ill as a newborn we spent a week at Seattle Children’s,” recalled Garcia. “I have that connection with the hospital, so I really feel for the patients and families.”
Spicing things up at Seattle Children’s
Garcia didn’t waste any time making changes after arriving at Seattle Children’s.
So far, Garcia has worked to bring in cage- and antibiotic-free eggs, is using bread without high fructose corn syrup, and has incorporated grass-fed beef into patient meals. He has also worked with Chef Walter Bronowitz to replace some frozen and canned foods with fresh options on patient menus. New offerings include homemade mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese and turkey sausage lasagna that’s made using house-made marinara sauce and antibiotic-free, vegetarian fed turkey. He’s also added new menu items like a new sweet potato and caramelized onion quesadilla.
“I’m excited to change not only the menu, but the mindset of patients and families and what they think about the food we offer,” Garcia said.
Garcia also has big plans for the overall food culture at the hospital. He aims to continue fostering the Seattle Children’s onsite organic garden to help it become a consistent food source for the hospital. He is also connecting with patients and their families to help educate them on the importance of fueling the body with natural foods.
“I feel lucky to be here,” he said. “I’ve cooked for many different people from all walks of life. But when you work at a place like Seattle Children’s, you see how food really affects kids’ bodies and how they feel. You want them to eat – it’s not just about filling a plate, it’s healing. It’s something I really take to heart.”
Making a difference for patients
After starting at Seattle Children’s, Garcia learned that a patient’s mom was preparing and bringing food from home to help aid her child’s eating while in treatment. Once he learned about this, Garcia visited the family and worked with the patient to discover what foods they enjoyed. From there, he went to work on creating a specialized set of recipes centered on familiar family meals – including a Chicken Tikka Pizza with homemade Masala Sauce, which was a hit with the patient.
Here we share this special recipe for you to try at home. Bon appétit!
Chicken Tikka Pizza with Masala Sauce
CHICKEN TIKKA PIZZA
Yield: 4 servings
- Pita bread: 4 each
- Masala sauce: 6 oz (2oz ea.)
- Mozzarella cheese: 2 cups (1/2cup ea.)
- Boneless skinless chicken breast or thigh, grilled: 1 lb (4oz each)
- Eggplant, diced small, sautéed to golden brown 4oz (1oz each)
- Zucchini squash, diced small, sautéed 4oz (1oz each)
- Fresh cilantro leaves for garnish to taste
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spread sauce on pita then add cheese, grilled chicken and cooked veggies. Place pita on a pizza stone or cookie sheet pan. Bake until cheese is bubbling and turning golden in color (about 8 minutes). Take out, add cilantro and cut into desired portions.
Yield: 4 cups
- Canola oil: 4 tbsp
- Fresh ginger, grated: 3 tsp
- Fresh garlic, minced: 3 cloves
- Medium onion, diced small: 1 each
- Serrano chile pepper, minced: 1 each
- Tomato paste: 1 tbsp, rounded
- Garam masala: 2 tbsp
- Crushed tomatoes, fresh or canned: 1 – 28oz can
- Sugar: 2 tsp
- Sea salt: 1 tsp
- Heavy cream: 2/3 cup
- Fresh cilantro, roughly chopped: 1/4 cup
Heat oil in large pan with over medium heat. Add onion and cook, until golden. Add ginger, garlic, serrano chile, tomato paste and garam masala; cook for about 2 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, sugar, and salt; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove pan from heat and stir in cream. Put sauce in an open container and refrigerate to chill. Once cold stir in cilantro. Spread sauce on pita bread to taste. Enjoy!