June 24, 2022

UW Health chefs win national culinary contest

UW Health chefs Shekeba Samadzada and Dan Hess
UW Health chefs Shekeba Samadzada and Dan Hess

Winning recipe made to welcome Afghan refugees

Madison, Wis. – With one recipe, two UW Health chefs brought comfort to refugees and reimagined what it means to cook for patients.

Shekeba Samadzada and Dan Hess’ vegetable korma recipe, a traditional Afghan stew, recently won the Health Care Culinary Contest, a national contest put on by Health Care Without Harm, Practice GreenHealth and Menus of Change, an initiative of the Culinary Institute of America and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

When the Taliban took control in Afghanistan in August 2021, Wisconsin accepted refugees at Fort McCoy, an Army base about 110 miles northwest of Madison. Some pediatric patients were sent to UW Health for care and that hit close to home for Samadzada.

Samadzada is from Afghanistan and as a teenager she fled from violence and unrest. She eventually traveled from Pakistan to the United States in 1991. She made her way to Madison and has been working at UW Health since 2008.

When staff learned these patients were from Afghanistan, the clinical nutrition team partnered with the culinary team to come up with a plan to provide food that the children would be accustomed to.

“We wanted to give these families a little taste of home and make it feel less like a hospital stay,” Samadzada said. “My mother taught me this recipe at a very young age and it’s wonderful we were able to win this national award because it has such an important meaning.”

Vegetable korma (pdf) is slow cooked with garbanzo beans, peppers, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, and green beans, and is seasoned with cilantro, turmeric, and coriander. It is served with basmati rice and naan bread, according to Samadzada.

“This started as a recipe for the Afghan refugees, but it has become so popular it is on our regular menu that we serve to everyone, including employees, patients and visitors,” she said.

The winning recipe fits into UW Health’s vision, according to Megan Waltz, director of culinary services and clinical nutrition.

“We have a supportive culture that helps everyone on their wellness journey by feeding them quality food and meeting their unique needs,” Waltz said. “We are so proud of Shekeba and Dan because they are helping to showcase and elevate meals we serve and erase the stereotype of 'typical' hospital food.”

These chefs have found satisfying careers at UW Health and this award puts a national spotlight on their amazing work. We hope more talented individuals join the team, Waltz said.

Currently, UW Health has many openings in Culinary Services. UW Health offers full benefits, flexible schedules with starting rates at $17 per hour and cooks start at $17.50 per hour with pay differentials for evenings and weekend shifts. Applicants can apply here.