August 03, 2009

What I learned from 7 days living in a Hospital

Emory Hospital Provides Unforgettable Culinary Experience

By Chris Kern,Travel Writer, "Go Fork Yourself" Magazine

On the rare and unfortunate occasions that one needs inpatient care, one would hardly expect such a destination to be of any culinary significance, would one? Well THIS one was delightfully surprised at the creations that I discovered at one Emory University Hospital located in the Decatur township of Atlanta, Georgia.

As I sped through the winding lane called Briarcliff towards Decatur, the un-air conditioned breeze wafting through my hair, I became lost in the charm of the tiny one-street subdivisions with their tantalizingly different architectural styles and subtle levels of homeowner neglect. I'll spare you the gory medical details, as nothing can kill an appetite like a lengthy description of surgery, and get right to the good stuff. Who would think, but the highlight of my day was the little breaks that I could steal away to sample the unique foodstuffs available in Emory University Hospital.

Macaroni and Cheese -- Asbury Food Court

While the debate over whether it is a mere side dish or deserving of full-course status will be debated for years to come, no one expects surprises from this unassuming comfort food staple. I admit, I ordered it as a palate complement to the stunningly gray Meatloaf Surprise that was served (the surprise being a small piece of yellow plastic that I discovered in my second bite). The Meatloaf was uninspiring with its day-old oatmeal texture and the fact that it took two packets of Ketchup and Texas Pete Hot Sauce to get the first hint of taste, but the "Mac" literally took my breath away and shone as the star of my supper plate that afternoon.

The texture of the macaroni noodles is the first discovery. True capital-I Italians favor pasta to be boiled "al dente", but the Asbury chefs boldly decided to push the envelope of semolina boiling and serve it with a texture so delicate and runny that you'll swear you're having fillet of jellyfish. The counterpart to these was the "cheese" sauce, which was equally as unexpected. Due to the Food Court's distinctive cooking style -- baking in large aluminum troughs -- the "cheese" had a duality of textures and flavors. Most of the dish featured the cheese in its runny, tepid form, which features only the slightest hints of cheese flavor, similar to the "white cheese" (tm) served at Subway. Quite novel, however, was the second texture, the crispy, cut-with-a knife top layer that delivers a tantalizing ounce or two of actual taste to each ice cream scoop serving of the dish, with amusing propane undertones.

The interplay of these layers was such a delight! Switching between fork-fulls of the blander bottom layer and a rationed slice of crispy top was not unlike spending hours in a sensory deprivation tank before attending a Death Cab for Cutie concert: The latter may be bland by itself, but after hours of nothingness, it seemed as mind-blowing as a Grateful Dead tour.

Kentucky Farms Sausage, Egg and Cheese Biscuit -- Refrigerated Vending Machine, 2D ICU

When gravity delivered this package to me (plastic inflated to prevent shattering), I thought there had been some labeling mistake. "I see only biscuit and sausage! Outrage!" I exclaimed to the other two sleep-hung-over occupants in the ICU vending area. I wanted to file a complaint to the management, but there was a notable lack of servers of staff in the area, and the staff that I talked to about it rudely told me to get out of their way, as they continued chest compressions on an elderly woman on a gurney. WELL! Were I not stranded there by a loved one in recovery and a ruthless no in/out policy on the parking lot, I would have driven elsewhere. But as things were, I swallowed my pride and tossed the wrong item into the microwave.

The dish emerged from the riveted aluminum door appropriately steamy and sizzling, however, so I sat in the Plastique Vieux chairs and bit with eyebrow raised in caution. Incredible. To my delightful epiphany, there was no mix-up from the vending machine, the egg and cheese portions were ingeniously injected INSIDE the sausage patty! Never since the invention of the "Uncrustable" Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich has this reported been struck dumb by the delicious utility of culinary invention. The egg was admittedly a bit dry, but there was a cheese-colored juice like right-from-the-oven Pizza cheese that scalded my mouth and mercifully put taste buds out of commission. After two or three singed swallows, I was tasting no pain. The only way I see to improve this is to serve the sausage/cheez/egg INSIDE a closed biscuit. If the magicians at Kentucky Farms can manage that, I predict we'd have a food sensation not seen since the creation of "Turducken".

These are but the highlights of the exquisite delights that I experienced during my stay. Now I know why Emory is called a "Teaching" hospital-- because the cooks there could teach some top chefs a thing or two! Needless to say, the next time that I find myself rushed to the hospital, bleeding out one orifice or another, I may find myself NOT rushing to get back out again!
-CK

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