Unique Culinary Careers: Pnina Peled

When ICE President Rick Smilow and Anne E. McBride wrote "Culinary Careers: How to Get Your Dream Job in Food," they discovered a plethora of food jobs they had never heard of before. Since the book's release, they have been discovering even more interesting career paths in the food world. DICED shares some of them with you in a reoccurring feature, “Unique Culinary Careers.”

One of the great things about the food industry is that chefs are often able to find ways to give back to the community through their work. ICE alum Pnina Peled is the executive chef of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where she is responsible for the meals of all the patients, as well as the food in the cafeterias and shops. She has developed a program for pediatrics which allows the children to order whatever they want — a special source of comfort for a sick child. She was recently profiled for her inspiring work with the hospital’s younger patients in the New York Timesand on ABC 7. We asked her about her career and her life at the hospital.

How would you describe your position?

I am responsible for the entire room service and retail operation at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. This includes food services for patients (Sloan has over 350 beds), employee and guest cafeterias, and OR lounge (over 3,000 guests a day), as well as food in the gift shop, Starbucks, Cyber Café, Student-Faculty Club and special functions. I meet with patients almost daily and have implemented a program for pediatrics that allows the children to order whatever they want, as long as it meets dietary requirements. Allowing the children the opportunity to eat what they desire encourages them to eat and gives them the nutrition they desperately need. It eases the minds of their parents and provides the family the comfort of meals together — a little bit of normalcy in a hospital setting.

What has your career path been like?

I began my interest in nutrition a few years back and have self-educated myself on the health aspects of food. When my daughter was born two years ago, my whole life changed. I realized the amount of power I possessed in controlling the health of my baby through what I, and later, she ate. When Memorial Sloan-Kettering interviewed me, I was convinced that this was where I belonged. It was as if it was meant to be. This is by far the most exciting position I have held. I have the opportunity to help people, but also I get to be creative at special functions and catering, use my business sense in our retail outlets and I still experience the hustle of a restaurant environment through our room service program, where everything is cooked to order for patients.

What is your favorite part of your job?

The most satisfying part of my job is when a child, who has been having eating difficulties, finally eats. Being able to see the excitement in the face of a child, ease meals for their parents and, of course, establishing a relationship with that child through food is more gratifying than anything. My favorite memory from my time here is playing games with a child I’ve known since my start here at the hospital. He was an exceptional eight-year-old with an advanced palette that always kept me thinking, working and creating. He inspired me a lot.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

The most challenging part of my job is altering recipes to meet the dietary restrictions of the patients, especially the children. I have to keep in mind that they are immune-compromised and in many cases, they are restricted from any raw foods, including fruits and vegetables. I have to be creative when a child on a low-fat, low-sugar diet wants pasta carbonara.

How did ICE help prepare you for the kitchens at the hospital?

ICE helped me gain the basic skills I needed. They prepared me for work in a professional kitchen environment. ICE also provided me with support after graduation and has always acted as a friend to me. They gave me the confidence I needed to push myself to excel.

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