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French Hospital Food: You Can’t Teach Old Chefs New Tricks

This article was inspired from a recent dietetic training period at a French hospital. The opinions shared in this post are solely my own. The name of this hospital will remain anonymous, but I can attest in my professional and personal opinion that the health standards in this hospital (including hygiene, meals, nutritional care, patient satisfaction) were average to exemplary.

Taste or Nutrition: Who Should Have the Last Word When Feeding Hospital Patients?


I was nervous. First day jitters. If I passed this mandatory internship I would have the legal right to practice as a French dietitian.

I sat in the dietetic office absorbing this new environment. With deep breaths, I started to calm down and smile. This training was going to be interesting, both on a professional and cultural level.

My first day set the standards on how the French do things. Things got moving quickly with a big debate on taste:

I thought to myself, “Ah, les Français et leur exigence avec le goût.” Ah, the French and their (high) standards for taste.

Houston, we have a problem.

The problem? The chefs were not happy. The hospital recipe for crepes uses rum in the batter. Children and recovering alcoholic patients shouldn’t be served food with rum or any alcohol.

And that wasn’t the only dilemma.

There were other recipes with alcohol that the hospital chefs routinely prepare. For example, the famous Lapin à la moutarde et vin blanc. (Rabbit with mustard and white wine sauce). The hospital chefs didn’t want to make this rabbit without adding the white wine to the sauce. And that was their final word.

The chefs explained, “you see, dietitians, taste of food is trés important.”

Yes, chefs. But so is nutrition and dietetic standards. And the hospital rule of no alcohol on the premises. What about that?

Rabbit with Mustard Sauce

Rabbit with white wine sauce

When old-fashioned chefs clash with new nutritional standards

There is a no alcohol policy in this hospital; for the patient’s food, the staff cafeteria and for hospital social events. In theory, all the hospital food should be prepared without alcohol to follow the nutritional (and hospital) standards. But the chefs have their own standard:

Taste. Taste. Taste.

The chefs wanted to prove their point. It was determined that a taste test between rabbit sans wine to rabbit with wine would convince the hospital dietitians that taste should have a higher preference over this no alcohol rule. (I will make a note here to say that the pediatric patients and recovery alcoholic patients never receive rabbit with wine sauce as part of their menu choices. The rabbit with mustard and white wine was offered to all other hospital patients).

So the dietitians did the taste test. Rabbit prepared with and without white wine.

Guess who won?  The wine did. It tasted better and it looked better on the plate.

When I left the training period a month later, rabbit with white wine sauce was still on the menu. A small quantity of pre-made crepes without rum were ordered by an off-site company for the pediatric and detox patients. The debate continues.

On what side are you more favorable? The chefs or the dietitians? Shout out your opinion in the “Leave a Reply” section below.

If you are interested in reading other articles about French hospitals and nutrition or want to read more on healthy recipes, school lunch, healthy eating and more, please join BrightonYourHealth here: subscribe to BrightonYourHealth. You can receive your free E-report on 10 International Tips to Good Health after joining.

Please share this article if you find it interesting.  And join the debate: taste or nutrition?

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4 Responses to French Hospital Food: You Can’t Teach Old Chefs New Tricks

  1. Eric Rathbone March 11, 2013 at 21:54 #

    It is not true that cooking a dish containing alcohol will cause all the alcohol to removed unless the mixture is cooked until completely dry.

    The alcohol and the water in the dish will, at some point, form what is called an azeotrope or “constant boiling mixture. ” At that point the water and alcohol will evaporate at the same rate. Therefore the dish will invariably contain at least a small amount of alcohol.

    In most cases this is so small an amount that it makes little difference but it is NOT safe to feed it to someone with an alcohol problem.

    • mbrighton March 11, 2013 at 23:39 #

      Thanks Eric,
      I thought the same thing as you…but couldn’t put it in the right words as you did! Thanks very much. In the hospital where I did my training these dishes with alcohol are not given to pediatric and ‘detox’patients (who are in a separate building and separate ward) but are offered to all other patients. I did meet patients with medical complications related to alcohol abuse who were trying to be alcohol free. There are also patients that are following an alcohol free diet for other reasons. While these patients could choose their menus to be without alcohol, couldn’t it be more ‘prudent’ to have an alcohol free policy with food served in the hospital?
      Warmly, Mary

  2. brigitte iauch March 7, 2013 at 17:44 #

    commeteh lady in red, je pensais que l’alcool s’évaporait à la cuisson…les diététiciens le savent-ils ou est-ce faux ?

  3. ~ The Lady in Red ~ March 7, 2013 at 15:50 #

    When cooking with wine or alcohol, the alcohol burns off leaving the taste behind. I really don’t see the harm in serving dishes made with alcohol to hospital patients.

    By the way, the hospital food at the hospital you referred to in this blog is amazing! There is nothing comparable on hospital menus in the U.S.
    ~ The Lady in Red ~ recently posted..Why Standardized Tests Don’t Mean a Hill of Beans

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