Bruno Tison is tapping into his more than 30 years of experience as a world-renowned restaurant chef to bring the ultimate dining experience to his newest customers—patients of New York’s Northwell Health.
Tison took on the role of AVP of system food services and corporate chef within the office of patient & customer experience for Northwell after serving as executive chef of the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa in California. There he led the team in receiving the celebrated Michelin star recognition for three consecutive years. Prior to that, he was executive chef of the Plaza Hotel in New York City for 14 years.
Prior to joining the Plaza Hotel, Tison trained with several of France’s legendary master chefs. Under their tutelage, he developed and refined his own unique style. He also worked in some of America’s most prestigious kitchens such as Beau Geste, in New York City, and Ernie’s Restaurant and Pierre at Le Meridien, in San Francisco.
Leaving restaurants for healthcare foodservice took a leap of faith for the northern France native. But it has finally given Tison a chance to cook for a cause he believes in.
“As a restaurant chef, I was only as good as my last dish,” says Tison, who has cooked for royalty, celebrities and for the wedding of President Donald Trump to his second wife, Marla Maples. “It was thrilling and exhausting, but it was often thankless work. When a colleague who I worked with at the Plaza called about the opportunity with Northwell, I wasn’t sure if it would be a good fit, but he convinced me it was a great opportunity.”
He was right, and Tison soon learned that by improving Northwell’s foodservice, he’d be giving back to his community in a way he never could as a restaurant chef.
“For many patients, their meals are the only thing they have control over while they’re in the hospital,” says Tison. “It’s so important to not only provide every patient with healthful options, but also with quality choices. That is our new mission.”
Before Tison, many of Northwell’s hospitals had been using packaged, frozen and processed foods.
“Quality food begins with quality ingredients,” says Tison, who is working with the cooks, dietitians, nutrition directors and executive chefs at each of Northwell’s hospitals to establish relationships with local farmers and ranchers who can provide better quality and fresher ingredients.
“We are shifting from a packaged and frozen food to a more farm-to-table focus,” says Tison.
Bringing on a chef of Tison’s caliber has proved to be a savvy move for Northwell. Not only is he improving the food and menus within its system, but he’s also attracting much higher caliber cooks. And he’s getting more buy-in from within the hospitals as well.
“If there is a choice between buying a new MRI machine or a new oven, the MRI machine will always be first in line,” says Tison. “Our challenge is getting our vision across the company so that every single Northwell employee embraces it and sees how food can improve the patient’s experience and health.”
That message is heard more clearly when it’s delivered by a Michelin star chef.
“We are in the process of developing new menus and recipes, says Tison, who has been vigilant about providing support and direction to the kitchens and cooks in each operation. “Sometimes, that means reviewing basic cooking techniques. Other times it means buying a better orange juice.”
Thus far, he had some big wins. He successfully removed all deep-fryers from across the system and is now serving fresh, hormone-free chicken as well as fresh antibiotic-free beef. “We’re in the process of removing all sugared beverages, too,” he says.
Tison is especially excited by the challenges posed by cooking for patients with dietary restrictions. “It’s not easy to create flavor without salt, or to produce purees that are delicious and safe,” he says. “But we owe it to our patients to find ways to do so.”
Certain restaurant techniques, like touching tables, are also having a big impact on the hospitals he visits. “When a chef in whites comes into a patient’s room to find out if they enjoyed their meal, it can have a profound impact on that person’s health and recovery,” he says.
Ultimately, Tison hopes that his work with Northwell will impact patients, communities as well as the company’s more than 62,000 employees who dine in its cafeterias.
“At Northwell, we treat our patients and our customers as a whole person,” he says. “They aren’t simply in need of medical help. They also need care and nourishment. Their visitors and our employees need nourishment, too. And so we will work to improve our food and attract talented chefs who can provide consistency and elevate quality. It’s going to be a long journey, but in the end, we will have a profound impact.”