Tasty hospital food? For this executive chef, yes

Versie Dortch

Hospitals generally aren’t known for serving tasty food. Don’t tell that to Martin Godinez.

The Novato resident has always believed people deserve flavorful food no matter the occasion. He continues that belief at MarinHealth Medical Center, where he’s executive chef, overseeing meals for patients, staff and guests. The American Culinary Federation-certified chef brings his love of seasonal, healthy ingredients as well as his knowledge of and training in various cuisines into his work.

Before coming to MarinHealth, Godinez worked in restaurants in New York City and San Francisco, and corporate food services. He was the executive chef for the US Open’s umpires in 1991 and for the US Open players in 2000.

Q What are some of your favorite recipes you’ve done at MarinHealth?

A When I came here 10 years ago, my boss’ idea was to change the entire menu. Often people refer to hospital food like it’s airplane food or travel food, and I never liked that mentality. I thought we can create wonderful meals using the best, organic ingredients as possible. So that’s what I did. I created different types of items, from chicken Marsala to Bolognese to salmon to different breakfast items. I believe we are doing a good job.

Q There’s been focus at MarinHealth on highlighting locally grown products. Why is that important to you?

A Living here in Marin, people are very healthy oriented, so it was part of that. And growing up in Mexico, that’s what we did — you farm and you eat whatever you harvest. It’s important for me to make my patients happy, and to give them the best possible meals they can have. I try to incorporate a lot of cuisines here. When you work in the kitchen as a chef and you have such a diversity of employees, why not utilize those diversities?

Q When did you start cooking?

A When I was living in Mexico working at my family farm. My mother told me, ‘Martin, you need to learn how to cook in case one day I am not here.’ Thankfully she’s still here. I spent a lot of time with her when she was cooking. It was not until I immigrated to America in 1991 when I started to work in restaurants as a dishwasher, like all do when you start, and I got the opportunity to be a cook and I began to really be passionate about it.

Q What led you to cook on the East Coast?

A In 1997, I met my wife in California while she was vacationing here. We decided to go to New York because she had a brother there and I lived in New York for 10 years. That’s where I started my corporate services experience. It was great because it teaches you to learn many different types of cuisine, and you’re learning it in one of the greatest food cities in the world.

Q What have you learned from this job?

A Working in health care in the hospital is very different than my experiences before. You are dealing with more vulnerable people, you have to be more careful of how you prepare things and to pay more attention to detail. There’s nothing more satisfying to me than making my patients happy after they’ve been through a hard time, but at the same time, there is no great chef or cook without a great team. I am proud of my team. I am always learning new techniques and improving beyond my own knowledge. There is always something new to learn and new horizons to discover.

Tasty hospital food? For this executive chef, yes

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