marc jacobs The Hampton VA Medical Center

The Hampton VA Medical Center cooks meals for its patients

So while Thanksgiving pushes many families to the limit the jammed fridge, the extra card table for the kids churning out a major holiday meal barely registers as a speed bump at Hampton, which has the most marc jacobs coordinated cooking operation in the VA network, medical center officials said.

The advance planning was evident last week, as cooks busily wheeled out hundreds of pounds of prime rib while pumping grits into 2 gallon bags with a fire hose like contraption.

“We’ve already shipped our turkeys out to all the sites,” said Sandy May, who oversees the operation. “We had about 1,100 pounds. The prime rib will be the start of our Christmas meal, which will be about 1,200 pounds. We just did about 1,500 pounds of Veteran’s Day pork ribs.”

May gets credit for first proposing the idea of mass producing enough food at one medical center for the entire VA Mid Atlantic Health Care Network, feeding veterans in Hampton, Richmond and Salem, Va.; Beckley, W.

Since ramping up the operation in 2004 05, it has saved the VA system $16 million in personnel costs, Hampton officials say.

The challenge, said May, is to churn out truckloads of food that satisfy the taste buds while working within heart healthy guidelines established by the Department of Veterans Affairs on sodium, fiber, cholesterol, fat and calories.

“Within that,” she said, “we’re able to do our thing.”

Consistency is key

The food at the Hampton VA isn’t fried, roasted or grilled. The method of cooking is known as “sous vide,” which is French for “under vacuum.” The food is cooked in a heated water bath, which a marc jacobs llows large quantities of meat and side dishes to be cooked consistently, said Eric Samuelson, the network’s food service director and a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America.

Last week, as workers readied 1,000 pounds of prime rib for their water bath, he noted that 135 degrees is about the right temperature for that type of meat. Keeping that consistency enables them to turn out hundreds of pounds of meat that is tender, moist and done to the right degree.

“We now know that the veteran in Beckley, West Virginia can expect roast turkey the sa marc jacobs me way as the veteran in Hampton,” he said. “It’s a big deal when you can say that.”

A smaller site like Beckley doesn’t have many cooks, so it gets the benefit of a larger facility like Hampton without employing more people.

“That, to me, is a big plus,” he said.

Because everything depends on timely deliveries, Hampton makes contingency plans for power outages, bad weather or anything else that can affect traffic to the far flung locations. The food, which is chilled but not frozen, has a shelf life of a few weeks.

The bounty is loaded onto pallets and shipped out a week in advance. Hijack one of these trucks and you’ll eat good for months. The pallets hold 2 gallon sealed bags of apple crisp filling, chicken sausage gravy, eggs, collard greens, rice pudding, Spanish rice, sweet potatoes and chicken rice soup.

And that’s just the side dishes.

Matter of taste

But this is hospital food, right?

May acknowledges that hospital food has a reputation, but she’s no marc jacobs t making concessions. Their food scores consistently well in patient surveys.

“Not everyone wants to be on that low sodium, heart healthy menu,” she said. “That’s part of what gives hospital food a bad rap.”

While they do their best to bring out flavors without compromising on nutrition, they have a harder time bridging regional differences. Consider the West Virginians out there in Beckley.

“I will tell you, at times their patient satisfaction is a little less because there’s not fat back in their beans,” she said. “There’s not corn bread with the high sodium.”

They try to compensate by treating the veterans now and then like the prime rib for Christmas. And besides the turkey, the Thanksgiving dinner includes candied sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, green beans, cranberry dressing and gravy. Lots of gravy.