"Cafeteria" is to "lunch lady" as "restaurant" is to "chef."
Enter: Chef Mezur Duzic of Phoenix Children's Hospital.
Duzic, a German-trained chef originally from Yugoslavia, takes the hospital cafeteria to a whole new level with made-to-order salads and a wood-fired pizza oven. This week, we're getting to know the man behind the one-of-a-kind food program at one of the nation's largest children's hospitals.
He came to Phoenix more than two decades ago on vacation to visit his mother. Although he owned a restaurant in Germany, he fell in love with it here, and at the age of 32, decided leave his career behind and move to the states to retire.
"I had saved very much and opened up a little place, because that was my dream to open up a little place. I was 32 at the time and situated and then I came over here with my brother and everything kind of turned upside down overnight. It was tough in the beginning."
When he moved to the states Duzic knew no English, but took free classes and eventually learned enough to allow him to find work in some of the most prominent kitchens in the area. After working in Payson, Duzic found himself as Chef de Cuisine at the Marriott Buttes Resort in Tempe.
"At that time the Buttes was one of the prominent resorts," Duzic said. "We had a beautiful brunch. I think that was a good time in my life...it was a period in my life when I really had open eyes for the beauty of the plates. It was kind of a big experience."
Duzic helped open the Phoenix Children's Hospital's previous location and moved with the hospital to the current location about a year and a half ago. Although he never envisioned himself as a hospital chef, Duzic's passion for customer care makes him an ideal fit for the unique situation.
"I always thought why not try something totally different and put something unique out there. I was against the idea of typical hospital frozen food from the first day and I think people appreciated that," Duzic said. "I'm still trying to put more into it. We're getting there."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
The project started simply enough, with Duzic's idea to offer a full salad bar with a wide variety of vegetable choices and food made fresh to order.
"From there it was really kind of, boom," he said. "We starting doing this and we started doing that. We used to have line for the salads. I got challenged by the doctors, they said, 'Oh, can you do 365 salads, different everyday?' And I said, 'Yeah, I can do that.' So we did it."
With food stations serving everything from wood fired pizzas to "south of the border" themed-cuisine, Duzic's cafeteria looks more like a restaurant buffet than anything you'd expect to find inside of a hospital. Tomorrow he'll explain where his love of cooking came from and share some of his favorite memories from working at the hospital. On Wednesday, we'll have his recipe for paella.