Chef Timothy Schoonmaker
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Chef Timothy Schoonmaker

Foodservice Director, Chef – Centra Health

On facing new challenges…

As the Director of Foodservice, I am responsible for a system of four hospitals with several off site restaurants, a food truck, and a 20 room hotel/hospitality center. When the pandemic hit, our facilities were immediately closed off to everyone except on site caregivers- this meant a large reduction in the workforce on campus. We also were forced to move all of our self-service concepts to full service (if not shutting them down completely) and closure of all of our off site retail operations. Combined with helping to ease staff fears, we had to create new ways to keep staff safe, which included increased cleaning frequency in the kitchens (most which operate 14-24 hours a day), wear masks, and re-arrange schedules into work groups to avoid exposure, including temperature checks before shifts.

On meeting the needs of the hospital staff…

We quickly realized that it was nearly impossible for caregivers to get out to stores (Virginia executed a stay at home order on March 24th)- so we converted our retail operations into mini grocery stores, offering household items such as toilet paper, soap, gloves; meats and cheeses, bread, take home meals, and chemicals (soap, sanitizer, bleach). As a healthcare organization that is responsible for the wellbeing of our communities, we felt as though it was our cause to support each other and minimize contact outside of work.

On planning for the future…

I see new regulations coming in terms of food safety (as I taught a food safety class last week, I thought to myself many times that various regulations will change soon, and will be the new norm) and more frequent cleaning of the kitchen. I do not think foodservice operations will ever be back to normal (or as they were before). Less tables in restaurants, decreased social events and less catering, possible elimination of self-service food formats across the board, will all affect how we deliver food for a long time.

On staying connected…

I connect through social media and digital meeting platforms participating almost daily in industry calls and local community calls, to show the community we are there and ready to help. Chefs know the importance of staying connected, so while some chefs are now at home due to furloughs or reduction in staffing, they are supporting the wellbeing of chefs who are working on the front lines by offering their support through these various forms of media. It is amazing to see how chefs always come together, in whatever way possible, to help each other and be there for each other. That is the essence of our being- we are all family at the end of the day.

On being creative and staying motivated…

For the team, we have honest, real conversations, no hidden agendas, we meet daily during huddles, and 2x a week for our management and supervisors, to discuss current topics and what we need to do, what has changed, and brainstorm for new ways of doing our jobs. Staff appreciate having a voice and support system. We also do our best to provide staff meals, meal allowances, and working shoulder to shoulder (with 6-ft of separation of course) to keep each other motivated. Basically, being there for whatever they need.

On being positive…

Reach out to other chefs just to say hello. Stay active in your professional organizations, volunteer if possible with a local charity who is helping to support others in crisis. Continue to be a leader, in times of crisis, people need someone who they can look to for support and assistance, continue to meet the needs of customers and clients through innovative thinking, keep a positive attitude. STAY HEALTHY- if you can’t take care of you, no one else will!

Chef Timothy Schoonmaker