Spicy creole roasted chicken and two other Creole plates behind it

It's no secret that UC Davis Health’s Executive Chef Santana Diaz and his talented team at Food and Nutrition Services are taking traditional hospital food and turning it on its head.

The most recent example of this is the rollout of refreshed Rotisserie menus at the Pavilion Café dining room at UC Davis Medical Center and the Lawrence Ellison Building (Ambulatory Care Center) Café.

“Orange chicken and noodles have competition now,"  said Sandra Bullock, food services manager at UC Davis Health, as she watched a steady stream of blackened trout, spicy creole roasted chicken, and vegan sausage gumbo pass through the registers.

The first new Rotisserie menu of the fall season made its debut Aug. 16 at the hospital cafeteria and the Ambulatory Care Center café. If early returns were any indication, the “Creole style” offerings are ready to challenge chow mein for Friday supremacy.

“I’ve never had trout here before,” said Nam Dao, a doctor of internal medicine. He sampled the fish, collard greens with mushrooms and smoked paprika, and spiced red bean ragout. “It’s a little different.”

And though he confessed that he’s not ordinarily a fan of spicy food, Dao said he appreciated the fresh flavors on offer.

A second fall menu made its debut five days later. The Wednesday “Pan-Asian” Rotisserie menu features lime leaf chicken, pork and coconut adobo, and tofu and vegetable curry. Salad options are a romaine/cabbage/chicken larb and a green papaya salad.

3 plates of Creole foods with employee serving them in cafe

Through the new menus, Diaz and his team hope to take staff and visitors on a tasty journey through quality ingredients, all from growers, farmers and producers close to Sacramento. One highlight of this culinary “stay-cation” is the trout.

“The trout is great because we’re not only highlighting our sustainability efforts in sourcing and our James Beard Foundation Smart Catch Leader designation, but we’re also supporting local farms such as Passmore Ranch,” Diaz explained. “We actually know where our purchasing dollars are going – right back into the community.”

Executive Sous Chef James Ablett said he was impressed that their team could make the Passmore trout – a staple at top-rated restaurants throughout the region, like the French Laundry in Napa – available on a large scale.

“[Fish farmer] Michael Passmore’s fish are stellar – very clean and responsibly raised,” Ablett said. “And we’re proud to offer it here at UC Davis Health at such a bargain.”

Like many other selections on the fall menus, the fish represent Food and Nutrition Services’ long-lasting commitment to responsible food procurement that meets high standards for quality and contributes to the vitality of the local economy and community.

“We want to serve healthy food that’s clean, fresh and local,” Executive Sous Chef Jet Aguirre said.

As for the Pan-Asian dishes, the staff also work with Niman Ranch and its network of U.S. family farmers and ranchers to order pork. Niman Ranch, which has locations in Northern California, raises livestock humanely and sustainably to deliver quality while helping support families working small-scale farms.

Certified organic rice is brought in from Rue & Forsman Ranch, about 10 miles south of Marysville, while tofu sourced from Hodo in Oakland starts with fresh, certified organic plants grown on American farms.

Larb salad on a white plate with lemons and basilLarb, a salad of lettuce, cabbage and chicken, inspired by Southeast Asian cuisine

Plus, this fall, it’s not just the ingredients that are locally sourced, Diaz said. He is also proud that ideas for the menu items themselves were crowdsourced hyper-locally – from his staff.

“We taped these poster boards to the walls and people wrote on them whenever they wanted to,” Diaz said.

Everything from larb to lasagna came out of the collective brainstorm, allowing his staff to really take ownership in the authentic cuisine featuring dishes from around the world.

The result? A menu that is homegrown in every sense of the word.

“We’re instilling that extra pride behind the dish,” Diaz said.

Additional menu items will continue to be rolled out over the next few weeks.

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UC Davis Health's Food and Nutrition Services Program commitments to health are defined in a R.E.A.L. food service program:

R - Responsible Food Procurement: We procure food and ingredients that meet UC Office of the President and Health Care Without Harm sustainable food requirements. We value clean, organic, locally grown and raised ingredients.

E - Education: We will increase awareness and demand for healthy, sustainable foods among patients, visitors and staff to increase our sustainable food program.

A - Active Community Engagement: It is the UC Davis mission to discover and share knowledge. We will partner with our community to promote healthy and nutritious foods. We recognize the local economic impacts of our procurement decisions.

L - Less Waste: We manage our food, facility and utility resources with careful stewardship to reduce waste and promote best practices for the environment.