Special to The Dallas Examiner
Executive Chef Andrea Piper at Parkland Health and Hospital System knows about food, family and community.
She is the “face behind the food” for thousands of meals served to Parkland patients, staff and visitors. Three meals a day are prepared for inpatients, whose numbers can range from 650 to 800. She also ensures that ingredients are chopped, steamed, seasoned and sauteed for staff and visitor meals available in Parkland’s cafeteria and retail store.
Although her journey to Parkland began eight years ago, her foray into food began decades before.
A native of New Orleans, Piper spent nearly 20 years working for McDonald’s in her hometown. “I started out as a crew member and worked my way up to manager,” she said. “I was very proud of my career there. I worked hard and it paid off.”
Then Katrina hit.
“The location where I was working wasn’t destroyed but because there wasn’t any power and the restaurant was full of food – well, let’s just say it wasn’t good when we went to reopen,” she said, wrinkling her nose as she described the scene. “But we went in, started cleaning and doing what we needed to quickly open doors and serve the people much-needed hot food.”
Piper stayed in her beloved city for nearly five more months before moving to Dallas with her daughter and mother in tow. It was then that simultaneously she enrolled in culinary school, worked full-time in a restaurant and, as time and funds permitted, taught students in grades kindergarten through 12 in the Dallas Independent School District how to cook.
“I am proud to say that I had perfect attendance in culinary school, never missed a shift at work, took on extra shifts when I could and based on what grade they were in, taught a lot of kids how to cook. Sometimes it was teaching a kindergartener how to make a sandwich, but it’s something they’ll use all their lives,” she said with a smile.
How did she manage to juggle all three? “It’s called planning the work and working the plan – although culinary school never seemed like work. I just loved it.”
Giving back to the community that embraced her and her family after Katrina is paramount to Piper, which is why she relishes the opportunity to participate in Parkland’s outreach efforts. Most recently she partnered with staff in Parkland’s Global Diabetes Center to teach patients and family members how to make meals suitable for diabetics.
“I always encourage people to use fresh ingredients – nothing from a can, if at all possible,” she said, emphasizing that every meal should be healthy, visually appealing and taste good. “I’m the type of person who ‘eats with her eyes’ so it’s very important that meals look good, too.”
On days when she’s not participating in outreach activities, Piper can be found working along with her sous chefs and Parkland’s retail dietary services manager Tony Davidson planning upcoming meals and developing new items to be introduced into the cafeteria’s monthly food rotation.
“We have the flexibility to add different food to the cafeteria menu, but we’re restricted on what we can do for patient meals,” she said. “It’s extremely important they receive the right combination of nutritious items to help with their healing. That may be low-fat, high protein, sugar free, or whatever is prescribed. I look at every one of Parkland’s patients as ‘my’ patients and am dedicated to making certain they have a wholesome, nutritious, and delicious meal.”