BWH chefs, dietetic interns and Department of Nutrition leaders gather before enjoying food from our chef’s diverse cultures.

Brazilian, Jewish, Haitian, Middle Eastern and Puerto Rican – these are just some of the cultures that make up the diverse patient population at BWH. On May 1, BWH’s 12 dietetic interns learned how a culture’s unique style of cuisine and dietary guidelines or laws can influence a patient’s nutrition needs and preferences.

As part of the second annual dietetic internship “Cultural Diversity through Food” class day, interns had the opportunity to hear from BWH chefs and try foods from their cultures.

Brian Millard, executive sous chef, described the major differences between the cuisine of the two groups of Jewish faith – Ashkenazi and Sephardic.

Jorge Portillo, first cook, told the interns about culantro, also known as long coriander, an herb found in Tropical America and the West Indies. It’s relatively unknown in the U.S., but an important ingredient in Puerto Rican cuisine.

Winifred Caddeus, first cook, explained the historical significance of Soup joumou, a Haitian pumpkin soup, and Jose Marcelo Almeida, second cook, talked about growing up on a farm in Brazil and what makes Brazilian cuisine unique.

Manar Alsebai, executive chef, described the food of his Middle Eastern heritage along with explaining the historical spice trade among civilizations in Asia, Northeast Africa and Europe. Spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, pepper and turmeric were the most popular.

The Brigham’s 11-month clinically-focused dietetic internship program is one of the most sought after in the country. Each year, 12 students are accepted into the program. For the Class of 2017, the Department of Nutrition received 138 applications. With rotations in inpatient settings, ambulatory services, specialty areas and Food Services, interns gain the skills and knowledge needed to sit for the national exam and become a registered dietitian.

Kathy McManus, MS, RD, director of the Department of Nutrition, explained that what makes the Brigham’s program unique is the clinical and cultural exposure to a diverse group of patients and staff. And class days such as “Cultural Diversity through Food” further prepare interns for their future careers.

“As I look at our next generation of dieticians, we are certainly experts in nutrition, but if we can’t connect with the people and the food, we can’t deliver high quality nutritional care that is both appropriate for our patient’s clinical needs and cultural needs,” said McManus.

BWH chefs prepared appetizers, entrees, sides and desserts for the interns to taste, including red lentil soup, a Jewish noodle kugel and passion fruit mousse.

“It is an honor to work with these chefs who not only bring their diverse personalities to the table, but also diverse flavors,” said Alsebai.

Added McManus: “Each chef was authentic and put a lot of time and effort into creating dishes from their culture that they felt the students could enjoy and discuss.”