Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and Oklahoma has the third-highest death rate related to heart disease in the country. The statistics are cited so often they’ve become background noise in the discussion about Oklahoma’s overall health. To help change the culture, SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital has hosted an annual Celebrity Chef event for 18 years.
The 2019 event featured celebrity chef, author and TV personality Daphne Oz, who spoke – and cooked – at Will Rogers Theatre. Celebrity Chef is the capstone piece every year for a comprehensive program that SSM Health Medical Group regional president Dr. Kevin L. Lewis said begins at the household level.
“We try to influence every household via primary care, and at every step throughout the network, all the way up to events like the Celebrity Chef,” Lewis says.
One area SSM Health identified that needed improvement was the hospital cafeteria, a staple in most hospitals that is usually managed by an outside group. St. Anthony’s is operated by Sodexo, a multinational food service group headquartered in Paris that has locations in 80 countries. In other words, not the type of corporation that is typically thought of as flexible where local changes are needed.
“We realized that we couldn’t try to change the culture at every step of the way if we didn’t address the food served in the hospital,” says Dr. Naji Karam, chair of cardiology at SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital. “And not just the food served to patients, but to our employees and guests, as well.”
To facilitate broad changes in the menu offerings, the SSM Health worked with Sodexo’s local executive chef Gary Blunt.
“Working with the doctors, Chef Blunt was able to offer a wide range of healthy options to everyone the cafeteria serves,” Lewis says.
Chef Daphne Oz was an appropriate choice for this year’s event, given that her famous father, Dr. Mehmet Oz, is a cardiothoracic surgeon, as well as a TV personality. Heart-healthy eating has always been part of her family’s repertoire.
“I grew up with an omnivore father and a vegetarian mother,” Oz says. “That was the beauty of it; nothing was off limits. My mother cooked meat for the family, and the Aegean influence on the cuisine – fresh veggies, olive oil, fresh fish – made the side dishes the star of the meal. There wasn’t really a focus on a big piece of meat.”
For the Celebrity Chef event, Oz prepared three dishes from her recent book The Happy Cook, which was written in 2016, the year before she departed her hosting gig on ABC’s “The Chew.” (Oz is back on television this year as a guest chef on her father’s program, appearing every Wednesday in The Dish on Oz segment.)
“My newest book, The Relish, is about creating the life I want for myself down the road,” Oz says.
As Lewis pointed out, changes to diet take time to show physical results – sometimes five to 10 years later – and now, as a mother of three, Oz is shaping habits for her children’s future, too. That makes her more mindful of what heart-healthy cooking looks like, and how difficult it can be to pull off with three kids under the age of 6 running around.
“The book is really designed for busy families,” Oz says. “It can feel like a chore, I know. But the book offers 120 recipes – vegetarian and omnivore – that are healthy and not difficult to prepare; food that will hopefully make cooking fun, and not a chore.”
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