A classically trained chef, Courtney Kennedy has worked in some of New York City’s most exclusive kitchens, like Momofuku Ssäm Bar in the East Village and Flora Bar inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But two years ago, a job posting for a cook at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) caught her eye.
She thought of her dad, who had just undergone quadruple bypass surgery in Los Angeles. She remembers him raving about the hospital’s food. “He still talks about it,” says the Culinary Institute of America grad. “It made the experience so much better for him.”
Chef Kennedy holds that memory close when preparing food for her new clientele. It’s an even bigger challenge to make a restricted diet look and taste delicious. “You want to make something you would eat,” she says. “I plate the food just like I did at Ssäm Bar.”
On her menu these days: vegan BLTs made with roasted portabella mushrooms, chopped pasta primavera for easy swallowing, and burgers with all the fixin’s cooked for those who cannot have raw produce. The abundance of ingredients and equipment available in the MSK kitchen make it easy to whip up so many different dishes. “We’re not working in the framework of a restaurant,” she says.
Although Chef Kennedy and 30 other chefs in the MSK kitchen are cooking for hundreds of patients, they want each dish to be special, whether it be perfectly poached eggs Benedict or Caribbean fry bread. “It’s somebody’s mom or dad up there,” she says. “You want to make sure they’re treated well.”
The shift from patrons to patients has reminded Chef Kennedy that cooking, at its core, is an act of love. “They’re going through the hardest time in their life,” she says. “So it’s a big deal to make sure the food is exactly what they want.”
For Chef Kennedy, “bon appétit” has never been more meaningful.