Fresh, seasonal eats coming to hospital kitchen at Mercy Medical Center Merced

Drector of nutritional services planning tasty hospital menu

January 14, 2010 


SUN-STAR PHOTO BY MARCI STENBERG Miriam Tcheng, the new director of nutritional services at Mercy Medical Center Merced, checks out the kitchen equipment at the new hospital on N. G St., scheduled to open in May. Tcheng said the kitchen will prepare fresh, local, seasonal food for patients, staff and visitors.

MARCI STENBERG — Merced Sun-Star

Pizza fresh from a wood stone pizza oven.

Panini sandwiches made from a variety of specialty breads.

Salads and vegetable dishes made from local, seasonal produce.

A chef trained at the Culinary Institute of America in San Francisco.

Sounds like an exciting new restaurant in Merced, but it's the yummy interior of the kitchen and cafeteria at the new Mercy Medical Center Merced.

When the hospital opens its new facility in May, Miriam Tcheng will be ready. She's been on board at Mercy for only two weeks, but as the new director of nutritional services she's ready to give patients, staff and visitors to the new hospital a tasty dining experience.

Tcheng came from the Merced County Head Start program, where she started gardens to grow fresh produce for the children's program. That's also her eventual goal for the new hospital -- a garden on site with produce that's as fresh as possible.

But even before a garden is started, Tcheng is making sure that it's not the same old institutional-style food at the new hospital.

"I'm going to incorporate more local fresh produce, fruits and vegetables that are seasonal," Tcheng said.

And it's not just fresh veggies and fruits that will greet diners at Mercy. Baked goods will be made from scratch at the hospital. Soups will be made from fresh ingredients. And that wood stone pizza oven will be turning out specialty pizzas.

"That oven was the first major piece of equipment that was installed in the hospital," laughed Tcheng.

The kitchen where the food for patients and others will be prepared features all gas stoves, a blast chiller to quick-chill foods, convection ovens and a kitchen three times bigger than the one at the old hospital on 13th Street.

"Unfortunately, we didn't have the preparation space at the old hospital to do what we are going to be able to do at the new one," Tcheng said.

Patients will be able to choose from a menu of at least four or five main dishes. Visitors to the cafeteria will also get to chow down on goodies from the new kitchen.

There'll be a big salad bar, along with the panini sandwiches, pizzas and other fresh foods prepared daily. And the cafeteria will be open 24 hours a day, unlike the current cafeteria, which is only open certain hours.

"Our staff and visitors will be able to come here any time of the day and get fresh food," Tcheng said.

Robert McLaughlin, spokesman for the hospital, said the hospital is committed to giving patients both nutritious and delicious servings.

"We now have the facility and the equipment to actually provide the best food possible to our customers," McLaughlin said.

"I believe food should be fresh, healthy and still taste good -- that's what I'm shooting for," Tcheng said.

It's clear -- there's a new chef in town.

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or