New healthier, flavorful cuisines are featured as part of the changes to the restaurant at Renown Regional Medical Center.
Take note, parents: Martin Trejo has a way with making people eat their vegetables. He also has a lot of help with this from all the Food and Nutrition Services employees at Sierra Café, the recently revamped restaurant inside Renown Regional Medical Center.
His secret? Color and preparation.
Martin relates one story that stood out in recent weeks: “I met a guy the other day who said, ‘I don’t eat vegetables.’ Just a week later, because of the way we prepare the vegetables, he said, ‘I’m all-in for vegetables now.’”
He says he understood what he meant—vegetables are challenging to prepare without over-cooking them or making them unhealthy with additions such as butter or cheese sauces.
“We take a great deal of time to prepare them the right way so they have bright colors and they are cooked so the full flavor and body and texture are there.”
As Lead Cook for Sierra Café, Martin assists with the restaurant’s push toward healthier and more varied offerings for the community members, patient families and employees that eat there. Martin also understands that as a health network, Renown should be offering healthy options for all of its diners.
“I think it’s very important,” Martin says. “I myself lean toward being on the healthy side, and we have many employees who feel the same way. And then, a change is always good. I think people were ready for it. They wanted to try new things.”
Martin has a varied background to back up his ideas on changing the perception of hospital cuisine.
Raised in Southern California, he worked for the famous Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood before a move to South Lake Tahoe, Calif. in the ‘80s. He was the saucier and dinner cook at the Harrah’s and Harveys casinos, and within the past few years, he was also a cook at Carson Tahoe Hospital and Barton Memorial Hospital in South Lake Tahoe.
With his new stint at Sierra Café, Martin started by tailoring five weeks’ worth of menus that would mix regular American-style comfort food with a variety of cuisine from around the world.
“There’s some Chinese, a little bit of European, some Mediterranean, some Mexican . . . just to bring it all in front of the public and see what they like,” Martin explains.
The objective for the food was simple: make it eye-appealing and colorful, with great body consistency and flavor – but also make it healthy at the same time. So, Martin worked with a variety of ingredients – kale, Portobello mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, different legumes – to bring some spice to the two hot-food lines at the café.
Oh, and one very literal spice – garlic.
“I was a bit aggressive about having roasted garlic here,” Martin continues. “But, it’s been very well accepted. In the beginning, people were really skeptical about it, but now if we don’t put it out there, we start getting questions: ‘Where is the garlic?’”
The emphasis on fresh ingredients also brought in US. Foods, the Reno-based business that works with local growers to bring organic and area fruit, vegetables, bread and meat to local restaurants and retailers. Martin contacts them a lot, asking daily what they have available and then tailoring menus to what is the freshest.
Trejo believes one challenge still lies ahead for himself and the Sierra Café employees: maintaining the menu changes, or even continuing to raise the bar for nutrition and style.
“For us as chefs, it is very important to get feedback from customers and employees,” Martin continued. “We love to hear that, and if anybody has requests, if they see something out there we should do, we’d love to see it.”