Matt Prentice helped health providers focus on food as medicine…and culturally appealing

By Dennis Archambault

At one time, the notion that appetizing meals and hospital food were mutually exclusive. However, Matt Prentice, the late culinary entrepreneur in metro Detroit, was challenged by Henry Ford Health System to create a healthy menu that was appetizing to patients at its then-new Henry Ford West Bloomfield. He created over 3,000 nutritious, appetizing menus that met strict dietary requirements prescribed by hospital dieticians. Before the location of the hospital and its affluent clientele discounts Prentice’s achievement relative to lower-income populations, Prentice argued that with creativity, will and the understanding that “food is medicine,” you can prepare appetizing, healthy, and culturally appealing meals for anyone. Chefs, he told me, are trained to cook to please. Hospital chefs need to learn to feed, please and heal. He emphasized that not only did his recipes pass the scrutiny of hospital nutritionists, but 99 percent of the ingredients were also organic. Organic produce retains more vitamins and minerals than other fruits and vegetables.

Prentice believed that food is indeed medicine. The “healing” comes in when a recipe incorporates vegetables and herbs that provide excess minerals and vitamins – “intensely.” For example, many of Prentice’s recipes incorporated broccoli sprouts, which have a high concentration of the antioxidant sulforaphane, into sandwiches and salads. Sulforaphane is believed to prevent and fight cancer, plus, Prentice added, broccoli sprouts are delicious. He applied this thinking to all of the recipes. To support the recipes, Prentice wrote a 48-page “required reading” manual, The Health and Illness Prevention Aspects of Food, for the Henry Ford food service staff.

Prentice was an accomplished entrepreneur, but also a humanitarian. His major focus was Cass Community Social Services. Prentice, created the CASS kitchen, where more than 700,000 meals are served per year for low-income clients. “Matt taught our staff to cook from scratch,” said Rev. Faith Fowler, director of Cass Community Social Services. “He taught me how to recognize hospitality and practice generosity.” While his consulting work served a largely affluent clientele at the hospital, Prentice believed that the thinking and effort of creating – though time-consuming – is affordable and worthwhile from a health standpoint – if the will was there.

Dennis Archambault is vice president of Public Affairs for Authority Health.