My Culinary Voice: Dr. Jonathan Waitman
One of ICE's first doctors on staff shares his personal journey with food.
Doctors Swana de Gjisel and Jonathan Waitman have joined the Institute of Culinary Education to explore culinary medicine applications for chefs, health care providers and cooking enthusiasts. Here, Dr. Jonathan shares how he became interested in food and nutrition personally and professionally.
I was fortunate enough to grow up in a health-conscious household. My father is a retired gastroenterologist who always had a focus on nutrition. He was advocating for fiber-rich foods before it was popular. My mother is a retired attorney who specialized in liability for over-the-counter diet products. As the youngest of four in a house with two working parents, I developed an interest in food and cooking at an early age. First baking and then cooking, I developed a repertoire of recipes, and by watching cooking shows, I dabbled in several international cuisines. I found cooking to be a way for me to relax and express my creativity. I would rarely follow a recipe exactly but rather used the recipe as a jumping-off point for exploration. My passion for eating and cooking has persisted to this day. In fact, I have incorporated these interests into my practice of medicine.
After growing up in New Jersey and New York, I attended Boston University for my undergraduate degree in psychology and returned for medical school at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS). As a resident in internal medicine at Montefiore Medical Center of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, I became proficient in the management of chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. Not surprisingly, many of my patients were either overweight or obese. Despite an excellent medical education, I had not really learned how to tackle weight from a medical perspective so I began to search for an expert to guide me.
I found Dr. Louis Aronne at the Weill Cornell Medical College. He graciously allowed me to start shadowing him as a third-year resident, and I continued to learn under his tutelage during my year as chief resident. In order to deepen my understanding of nutrition, I completed a fellowship in clinical nutrition at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. During this fellowship, I learned more about the relationship between nutrition and cancer.
Upon completing my training, I joined Dr. Louis in clinical practice where we specialize in the medical management of obesity. I have since become the director of the nutrition curriculum for the medical students and the co-director of specialized nutritional support. In this capacity, I manage in-patients with complex nutritional issues. I enjoy both aspects of my practice, and more than 90% of my practice revolves around nutrition and its impact on related comorbid conditions (or more than one condition).
In my personal life, I am the proud father of four daughters, and my wife practices obstetrics and gynecology. Since I thoroughly enjoy cooking, I shoulder most of the cooking responsibilities. I make dinner for my family around five nights per week and try to create healthy and tasty dishes that we can share together as a family.
Two years ago, I began to think about ways to marry my love of cooking with medical education. I partnered with another attending physician at Cornell, Dr. Swana de Gijsel, and created an elective called Culinary Medicine. In this class, we teach medical students about the impact of nutrition on various disease states. We also bring the students into a teaching kitchen to learn how to put those nutritional concepts into action. The cooking sessions are led by a multidisciplinary team of chefs, registered dietitians and medical doctors. This experience is enormously rewarding for the educators and the students, and students consistently reported that this elective was the highlight of their first year. Dr. Swana and I started to think about ways to expand our program and that is what led us to the Institute of Culinary Education.
12 future physicians just completed a 5 week Culinary Medicine elective course hosted by #NYP & @WeillCornell's Department of Food and Nutrition. They participated in lessons on culinary skills, nutrition & the universal concept that food is medicine. #NYPnutritionpic.twitter.com/YYeJzXB5vk— NewYork-Presbyterian (@nyphospital) December 20, 2017
In March, I volunteered for redeployment to treat COVID-19 patients at my hospital, NewYork-Presbyterian. This experience was both difficult and rewarding, and in the aftermath, I realized that the experience had exacted an emotional toll on me. I healed by spending time with family, which for me, includes cooking and baking. A healthy diet and exercise were crucial for my healing process, and I am teaming up with ICE to carry this message to other health care providers.
In partnership with ICE, Dr. Swana and I are continuing to explore the nexus of health, nutrition, medicine and culinary arts, and we're excited to share this with you.
Pursue career training in Health-Supportive Culinary Arts.