There’s more than a few good reasons why this hospital is called a “hospitel” ”“ a hospital hotel, and more importantly, why its food is good enough to write about.
Driving down from the Buendia flyover, St. Luke’s Medical Center Global City cuts a dashing silhouette. The morning sun hits it just so, making the structure’s blunted angles and towering height even more striking. I’m here on the invitation of Brando Santos, the hospital’s Executive Chef, a friend and someone I once worked with as consultant to a large food company.
- my friend, Chef Brando Santos
Brando knows how hesitant I am about visiting yet another hospital. My confinement (though not at St. Luke’s) last November and then again in January has left me cold, memories of the unimaginative beef served in various shapes — “… rounds, strips, and cubes, Brando! I was half expecting star-shaped beef next!” ”“ still burning in my brain. My chef-friend chuckles, his imposing size making it sound like a great guffaw and I can’t help but giggle also. “I promise to make the food worth your while, Lori.” “Ha! We’ll see about that,” I sniff haughtily.
St. Luke’s Medical Center Global City (from here on referred to as SLMC) doesn’t smell or even look like a hospital. Some may argue that it may be because it’s so new but I don’t think so. Everything about this place is different:
the various artworks, sculptures, and paintings that add accent or hang from the walls, the gleaming lobby that would be more at home in a hotel, the wifi-ready Lobby Coffee Shop, the various color schemes for each floor, the restaurants and establishments (as of this writing, those set to open include Mary Grace Café, National Bookstore Bestsellers, Bizu, and two banks). Aside from the tangibles, it’s the people themselves — the nurses, doctors, staff, and maintenance crew that are the most impressive. There’s a certain pride in the way they comport themselves, that particular “joy of the job” that is bereft from other workplaces. You’ve got to see it to believe it.
I’m also psyched to make it all the way up to the top floor of the Main Building where the helipad is. Talk about an awesome albeit smoggy view! And of course, there’s the much-talked about Presidential Suite. No slouch in the space department, it commands 150 square meters that consist of:
a dining room amply decorated with photographs by Wig Tysmans…
a Jacuzzi (with L’Occitane toiletries), a kitchen, a personal safe,
a wifi-ready desktop pc and printer and enough LCD TVs to while away boredom…
a view stunning enough to take one’s worries away…
- robe and slippers for the best guest, the patient
and much more; this is all in addition of course to the patient’s bed and surrounding space. Other suites that have permutations (to lesser degrees) of the already-mentioned amenities include the Executive Suite, Ambassador Suite, and Junior Suite. I’m amused to learn that the rooms also include butler service, laundry service, airport shuttle service, and salon services. Like I said earlier, hospital? Or hotel? Hospitel.
By this time, I’ve been guided around the hospital for about two hours (in heels!) and my feet and stomach are making it known. “Brando, how’s about you show me how good hospital food can be right about now?” I ask, clutching his arm. He laughs at my wild-eyed, hungry look. “Let’s go back to the kitchen. The staff will just about be ready for plating.”
Back in the hospital kitchen, a flurry of activity is centered around the conveyor where trays and other meal accoutrements are set up. The kitchen has a copy of each patient’s dietary requirements that’s dutifully completed by a “line” (my term) cook, whether that be full diet, therapeutic, hypoallergenic, lowfat/low salt, etc. The pink and white trays and covers used are specially designed to insulate the meal keeping it as hot as possible for the longest amount of time.
Patients are given a menu card hours before each meal so that they can tick which main dish they prefer. Today’s main dish choices are: barbeque pork spareribs, beef shortribs with gremolata, and an Italian seafood stew. It will come with a cream of cauliflower soup, steamed broccoli and cauliflower, steamed rice, and sweetened bananas all fulfilling the protein-starch-veg requirements. That’s for the full diet and there are “stripped down” variations of it for stricter diets.
Brando and I settle down to our own meal — the full diet version with all three mains (!) I’m truly prepared to be dismayed — at most, disappointed with my meal; this is a hospital after all. But my first bite of the barbeque pork spareribs couldn’t be more surprising. Tender and with real smoky flavor, I could’ve closed my eyes and believed I was anywhere but a hospital. The beef shortribs remind me of the same stew I cook at home (plenty of that bone-gnawing, lip-smacking goodness), and the Italian seafood stew is devoid of any of those usually petrified seafoods (in hospitals and elsewhere). What a delicious relief this meal is turning out to be! As we eat, Brando talks in earnest about how vital food is to one’s healing. Unlike other hospital food that I’m convinced is designed to keep or kill (!) someone in a hospital, he tells me that the food at SLMC, “… is proof [that] hospital food can be [this] good.”
Of course, this is no easy job. Brando stays on top of his game by keeping informed of patient preferences and surrounding himself with people who encourage healthy eating that’s also delicious. It’s interesting to me and makes good sense when I’m told that most of the (kitchen) staff are from culinary schools; it’s they who would know about presentation and understand the need for creativity, especially on a hospital food tray.
And I must tell you about the desserts that Brando serves: leche flan (quivery and custardy) and crÃ¨me brulee (a caramelized crust covering a soft, near-molten marriage of eggs and sugar), so remarkable it’s almost a shame one has to be confined here at the hospital to partake of it. Though I fervently hope to not see the inside of another hospital for another oh, maybe 60 years, the SLMC experience is best described by Brando: “We don’t just offer medical expertise but also customer delight.”
St. Luke’s Medical Center Global City
32nd Street, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.
Many thanks to the kitchen staff at St. Luke’s Medical Center Global City, especially sous chef Janice Lazaga and CC Silva, Food & Nutrition Department Manager.
Other hospital food:
Floating Island at Makati Medical Center