Chef News

Chef Mensur Duzic of Phoenix Children's Hospital, Part Two

Yesterday we started the conversation with Chef Mensur Duzic of the Phoenix Children's Hospital. Today, we continue.

Duzic, a classically trained chef who worked for more than a decade in fine dining, is putting the "hospital" in hospitality by bringing his cuisine to an unexpected arena: a hospital cafeteria.

From a young age, Duzic remembers being interested in food. At the age of 11 he had his first jobs working in a graveyard and, more fittingly, at a bakery.

"That was my start," Duzic says. "But I think I always had a love inside of me for it. Even making picnics as kids with my friends, I was in charge of buying food and going to the market."

He also credits his mother and grandmother for passing on their love for culinary arts.

As the executive chef of Phoenix Children's Hospital, Duzic strives to maintain a high-level of customer satisfaction. In fact, he approaches the management of the cafeteria in more or less the same way any chef would handle a traditional restaurant. Unlike most, Duzic's cafeteria makes the majority of its food to order and serves around 2,400 people every day.

"They say it's hard to make everybody happy, but I think it's possible."

Despite coming from a classic culinary background and sporting an impressive fine dining resume, Duzic's found plenty reason to stay with the hospital for over a decade. To him, the interaction with patients and their families brings the kind of satisfaction he could find nowhere else.

"I know it's hard for the families, being here," Duzic says. "But if you can give them just a little moment and put a smile on their face, to make them feel like they're not alone...I think that's the biggest reward."

Working closely with doctors and families, Duzic tries to balance patient's nutritional needs with their dining preferences. Because medications can affect taste buds, this can be quite a challenge. Some patients spend extended periods of time at the hospital, so Duzic often builds relationships with the children while they are there.

"My first patient, when I went up to her room, I was nervous of course. Thinking how is it going to be when you see somebody with all of those needles and laying in bed?" Duzic remembers.

"But the child wanted to see me, so I went over there and I put a mask on...and the first thing she told me was, 'Put the mask down. I want to see you smile.' I still have a picture downstairs. Now she's 16 and now she's good. That's rewarding. You can't have that at any restaurant or hotel. Here, you interact with customers everyday."

Duzic has also begun offering cooking classes for the children in the hospital. Recently, he taught patients how to make pizza. The classes are a fun way for patients, who are sometimes unable to leave their rooms for weeks at a time, to get out and move around. He also hopes to begin a program where other local chefs will be able to come and serve their own cuisine at the hospital cafeteria.

"I think I combine everything inside of me and I think I'm fortunate," Duzic says. "I'm always saying, 'Blessed is the one who really loves what he does.' That's like living a dream every day."

Tomorrow we'll be sharing Chef Duzic's recipe for paella.

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Lauren Saria
Contact: Lauren Saria

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