The Heart of BIDMC
BIDMC Executive Chef Goes the Extra Mile
Each Saturday morning growing up in Trindidad, Akeisha Hayde’s grandmother Cynthia went to the market to buy baskets full of fresh produce. In the afternoon, the grandchildren gathered to shell peas and cut vegetables in preparation for the upcoming week. Akeisha’s was a family of cooks with grandmother Cynthia at the helm.
“Food was one of those areas where, as a family, we all spoke the same language,” she says. “Everyone agreed when we were in the kitchen.”
Years later when Akeisha’s grandmother was near the end of her life, the last thing she asked her granddaughter to cook for her was chicken noodle soup. Akeisha was more than happy to grant this wish.
“That memory always stays with me,” she says. “Even today, whenever I cook for someone, I cook with love as if I were cooking for my own family.”
Encouraged by a high school home economics teacher who recognized her talents, Akeisha moved to Boston in 2003 to attend Newbury College. She completed degrees in culinary arts and culinary management and began working in restaurants and country clubs, eventually finding her way to healthcare.
“Rounding on very sick patients was transformative for me,” says Akeisha. “I visited a cancer patient who said, ‘All I want is a cheeseburger that is not dry,’ and I thought, for everything this patient is going through, I don’t think that’s too much to ask. It made me really start to think differently about how I was preparing food for patients.”
As an executive chef at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Akeisha now spends most of her time in the kitchen, though she still happily visits patients whenever she’s requested.
“Sometimes we have families of a certain cultural background and they’re just craving home food, so I’ll cook it for them,” she says. “Or I’ll go see a patient who may be on extended bed rest because of gestational diabetes. Whatever I can do to make their stay a little bit better, that’s what I do.”
Akeisha is motivated by talking with patients about their particular nutritional challenges.
“It makes me want to come back to the kitchen and figure out how to make food look good, taste good and still be safe for them to eat,” she says.
Akeisha has recently taken up the challenge of working with patients who have ALS and patients being treated for head, neck and throat cancers. Both of these groups often have difficulties with swallowing, making it hard for them to maintain an interest in food and get enough calories. Weight loss can be a big problem.
“Many of these patients are continuously eating or drinking the exact same foods all the time, especially nutritional supplement shakes like Ensure or Boost, to pack in more calories,” she says. “The nutrition is there, but eventually there’s nothing fun about drinking them.”
Akeisha wants to make it more fun. She has gathered a variety of the nutritional supplement drinks and is swapping them out for ingredients in some of her favorite smoothie and dessert recipes, like angel food cake and crème brulée. “Who doesn’t love crème brulée?”
She plans to test the recipes with her ALS and cancer patients to see what tastes good to them and what the patients can tolerate. She’s thinking about a chocolate and strawberry smoothie for her ALS patients, but knows that might not work for the cancer patients.
“Patients who are getting treatment for head, neck and throat cancers often have raw, irritated throats, so I have to go with low acidity fruits, like melons, mangoes and bananas, and I can sneak in some kale or spinach to make the smoothies even more nutritious,” Akeisha says.
Once she figures out what they like, she’ll put together recipes and ingredient lists, as well as tips on where and how to shop to make it easy for patients and their loved ones to recreate the recipes at home. All of this is above and beyond the work that goes into the planning and preparation involved in delivering more than 600 patients meals each day and overseeing BIDMC’s cafeterias.
“Seeing the patients smile really brings out the human side of the job I do and it makes it very easy to go the extra mile for them,” says Akeisha. “I would hope one day, if any one of my family members was in the same situation, someone would make the extra effort to make them smile, too.”
Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.