DANVILLE, PA -- Inspired by watching his Nana and Aunt “Cookie” prepare meals in the family kitchen, Matthew Cervay began cooking at the age of six. “It was old school comfort food done well. I helped help mix batters, peel potatoes and assisted with anything a young kid could do.”
Building on the skills he developed as a young boy, a childhood hobby grew into a career that has spanned 20 years, and includes a degree from the Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts, positions as a sous chef in the country club and healthcare industries, and now as Geisinger’s corporate executive chef. “I believe those times spent in the kitchen subconsciously laid the ground work for my career,” said Chef Cervay.
Hired to standardize and improve food service at all Geisinger locations, Chef Cervay explains the main reason he became a chef. “The joy you can bring customers, family and friends with this profession provides a deep sense of satisfaction.” It’s this attitude he brings to the table, literally, as he begins to make changes in an effort to increase customer satisfaction and provide healthy options to Geisinger patients, employees and visitors.
“Geisinger’s Foodservice team recognizes the importance of good health and continuing wellness for the patients, employees, volunteers, visitors and community members they serve,” says Bruce Thomas, Geisinger’s Vice President of Guest Services. “The hiring of an executive chef will help us raise the bar on the quality of the food we serve and still be true to our mission to promote healthy food choices.”
Chef Cervay is focusing on introducing creative, fresh and healthy recipes for both patient services and his retail customers. “The goal is to improve flavor and visual appeal, while continuing to provide a lot of choices and incorporating regional selections. We will serve meals that are nutritionally balanced, with a high quality that is consistent at locations throughout the system.”
A focus on nutrition doesn’t mean patients, visitors and staff will have to forego their favorite comfort foods. “Pizza, burgers, fries and the like will still be available. However, we want to get rid of the processed ingredients and make those items with the best products we can. When using the best quality ingredients you are able to source healthier items and those comfort items will taste and look better,” said Chef Cervay.
While the changing menu will still meet the needs of patients who have dietary restrictions, Chef Cervay said a hospital dining service is no different than the restaurant in a hotel or country club. “Customer service is customer service – it doesn’t matter the building you’re in. That’s how we should be treating our customers.”
In September, Geisinger’s foodservice will begin replacing frozen vegetables from its retail food items with fresh vegetables. Chef Cervay said patient menus are more complex and will take longer to adjust; the practice will follow later, as specialized diets allow. “We are fortunate that we work with suppliers that have relationships with Pennsylvania farmers. This means Geisinger will be able to offer local produce when seasonally available. When we are not able to purchase locally, we will still always be purchasing fresh, not frozen vegetables. Offering a better product while supporting local contracted suppliers is a win-win for everyone.”
“Foodservice’s mission is to offer and promote healthy food choices and provide accurate, pertinent information to enable our customers to make truly nutritious selections,” said Mr. Thomas. “Adding an executive chef lets the community know we’re serious about the quality of food.”
Like his grandmother and aunt, Chef Cervay involves his own children in the kitchen when they’re old enough. “My oldest, Carlee, is almost 4 years old. So far she has made cookie batter, pancake batter, waffle batter and eggplant parmesan, a big jump in levels, I know,” laughs Chef Cervay. “She loves the garden, and will pick basil and tomatoes and eat them right off the vine, dig up potatoes and scavenge for garlic and onion bulbs. Lillian is younger and still eats sand, so she has another year to go before I release her in my garden. My youngest, Asher, will be playing in the garden as soon as he can hold his own head up.”
Work keeps Chef Cervay busy, and driving back and forth to Ohio to see his wife and children, who have not yet moved to the area, takes up what spare time. When things settle down and he gets a chance, Chef Cervay enjoys camping and fishing. “I can cook fish that I catch, but no, I don’t usually scavenge for ingredients in the woods to cook.”
Geisinger is committed to making better health easier for the more than 1 million people it serves. Founded more than 100 years ago by Abigail Geisinger, the system now includes 10 hospital campuses, a health plan with more than half a million members, a research institute and the Geisinger College of Health Sciences, which includes schools of medicine, nursing and graduate education. With more than 25,000 employees and 1,700+ employed physicians, Geisinger boosts its hometown economies in Pennsylvania by billions of dollars annually. Learn more at geisinger.org or connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.