Institutional Cooking?

Joined Aug 3, 2010
Anyone here cook (or, has cooked,) in an institutional setting? I've got an interview for a rehabilitation center (primarily physucal therapy and the like) coming up, and am curious as to others' experiences and possible tips. I know institutional cooking generally from the Military, but working with stroke and accident victims, cancer patients, etc... presents a whole different set of challenges and is a whole 'nother way of cooking. Any thoughts?
Joined Feb 8, 2009
I think you will have all the same needs as a hospital setting. Your dealing with physical Therapy, but the diet and needs of these patients are still a concern. The stroke patient may need soft or liquid diets, the cancer patient mat have special needs. I worked as chef in a Hospital for a few years back in the day, I learned a lot................ChefBillyB
Joined Oct 10, 2005
Further to what BillyB says, there will be a lot more focus on sanitation, and you will learn a lot in regards to special diets and nutrition.

All in all, it's not a bad gig.  You trade some "Bragging rights"  for more security, regularity and consistancy. 
Joined Aug 6, 2010
from what I understand, unless your actually making the menu, then it will be the same as cooking for the military. Of course, if you are doing the menu and diet planning then you will have to deal with a lot more. I would imagine that with physical therapy you may be looking at protein heavy diets? But as far as sanitation and kitchen size and structure go, it should be like a mess hall. Did you get to work out of the MKT's at all in the military? They seem pretty cool, but I'm an engineer in the guard, so I don't get to cook much. Wondering how it is to cook out of one of those.


Staff member
Joined Oct 7, 2001
Just over a year and half ago, I left the restaurant business to do institutional cooking in a jail.  While slightly different than your setting, there are a number of similarities, the main one being the emphasis on nutritionally balanced meals and "special diets."  In my situation, I have very little control over the menu, as it is created by our dieticians, to ensure proper caloric count and nutritional guidelines.  The food is not glamorous, nor oftentimes very creative, especially if you don't have any input.  But what I have given up in creativity I have more than gained back in lifestyle.  I was at a point in my life where I my priorities had changed.  I no longer wanted 70-90 hour weeks, weekends, nights, etc.  I now work a more civilized 40-50 hours a week, with nights and weekends off, usually.  And on top of that, my stress level has been cut by about 2/3's.  I have found other avenues for my creative outlet.  And to be honest, I have found more of a sense of purpose.  Sure working in high end fine dining restaurants was a big ego boost, but at the end of the day how much of a difference did I make in the world.  Working in the jail, not only do I produce nutritionally sound food, something many of these inmates have never really had, but I also teach important cooking skills and life skills to the inmates who work under me.
Joined Jul 3, 2012
I have recently given up the hustle and bustle of Personal Chef, Caterer, private gigs, Sous Chef and so on for a cooking job at a nonprofit drug & alcohol Rehab center.  I completely agree with Pete.  It's pretty rewarding and having nights off allows me the social life I'd almost forgotten about.  One additional downside I would add is the physical demands on the body takes some getting used to.  I'm in pretty good physical condition, or so I thought but the first few weeks on the job we so tough, I had nothing left for the gym.  It's getting better now......
Joined Dec 4, 2010
I work for an independent living center (elderly buy no special diets). One big thing to watch is your portion control. Like someone said before, sanitation levels are even stricter but so can portions. Our kitchen across the street got a fine for not using the right size scoop. Also, braising will become very useful. Its a great way to cook entrees en mass and not have to worry as much about drying out. Alot of how you cook also depends if you feed everyone at once or over a short period of time.
Joined Jul 12, 2012
Kvon,  I have been working as a Certified Dietary Manager in elderly healthcare for over 20 years...and the scene is one that truly needs management with a passion for the elderly and food at the same time. I have started a facebook page (PM me for the link) and Id love for you to visit and read some of the things I post.  This field is truly my passion, and most facilities are graded by the local health department and also undergo state and federal inspections annually because of the medicare and medicaid licensing needs. There are certain standards in menu writing, food preparation, cleanliness and service that must be attained and maintained in this field that you wont see in a regular restaurant. Like there can be no more than a certain number of hours between meals, snacks given at specific times, staff training and inservices monthly, menus signed off on and approved by a registered dietician of certified dietary manager dependant on the state you are in...therapeutic diets etc...Budgets are generally low...but assisted living usually has a higher patient per day  PPD budget and usually around 5-6 bucks a day. I am very good and creative with menu planning and stretching the dollar and providing quality food at the same time. If you need help...Id be happy to talk to you about any issues you may have. I believe that the elderly deserve better service in food than they are getting across the board...and I've made it my mission to begin developing solid training programs for healthcare cooks. Feel free to contact me at any time...with any question.  My information is on the site I just typed in.  :) 
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Joined Dec 8, 2012
Chef Nettie -  how do I PM you?  I would like to talk about "institutional" cooking for the elderly

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Joined Apr 3, 2010
Joined Nov 12, 2016
I too left the resorts, restaurants and fine dining to cook and lead a kitchen that feeds the homeless.
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