HHC After Dark

Serving Up the Most Important Meal of the Day

Brian Spyros

Tony Marenna, above, and Jeff Ouellette, left, are in early each day to make sure patients and colleagues have nutritious, hot breakfasts.

Tony Marenna knows a thing or two about what it takes to prepare food for a hospital full of patients, visitors and colleagues. He’s been doing it since 1983. 

“It takes a lot of organization and experience,” said Marenna, a cook with Food Services at MidState Medical Center. 

He’s in the door at 4:30 every morning, before the first rays of light start to peek along the horizon, as one of a few people tasked with making food for patients who will soon be waking hungry for a hot meal. 

“Breakfast during the week includes pancakes, French toast, omelets, hash browns and hot cereals,” Marenna explained. “We cook for patients in five different pavilions and the Emergency Department. The goal is to start serving the food at 7:15. Timing is critical because you need to make sure the food is nice and hot when it gets to the patient. Patients also have dietary restrictions so our batters and mixes need to follow very specific recipes.” 

It’s the same at The Hospital of Central Connecticut, where Jeff Ouellette is the breakfast cook coming in at 4:30 a.m. to begin making the most important meal of the day for patients. “I’ve been doing this for 23 years, so nothing fazes me. Every day is totally different, whether it’s making 240 pancakes or mini quiches,” Ouellette said. 

Work in the kitchen at both campuses also involves a lot of prep — getting all the supplies and ingredients ready ahead of time to make sure they have what they need for not only breakfast, but lunch and dinner as well. Breakfast preps start the day before — so when the early morning crew comes in the following day they can get right to work. 

“Amounts will vary depending on census, but we’ve become very good at forecasting what we will need and how much based on the number of patients in our care,” Marenna said. “A big misconception is that everything we have comes pre-packaged and that’s not true. A lot of our stuff is made from scratch, from the entrees to the desserts. We take a lot of pride in what we make.” 

Both Marenna and Ouellette said they enjoy working the early morning shift and kicking off the first food service of the day, understanding how important it is for everyone. 

“My favorite part of the job is making sure everyone is happy with the food. Even though we are in a hospital, it still makes a big difference. If people are eating good food, they feel better. It goes a long way, I think,” Ouellette said.