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Raleigh top chef changing image of hospital food

Posted November 11, 2015
Updated November 12, 2015

— One of Raleigh’s top chefs is now a statewide culinary champion, but his food can’t be sampled in one of the Triangle’s high-end restaurants.

Ryan Conklin is a chef with a plan to change the narrative about hospital food.

“It’s really impressive what you can do when you have a true food culture right from the top down,” said Conklin.

Conklin leads a team of chefs at UNC Rex Healthcare in Raleigh with a simple concept.

“If we’re going to serve food, let’s make it restaurant quality,” said Conklin.

Conklin’s restaurant quality food was on full display this year in the Got to Be N.C. Dining Competition.

“The first night there was an actual media day and afterwards, the media was talking to the chefs and really no one wanted to talk to me at all,” Conklin said.

That quickly changed when Conklin won the Triangle competition and the Battle of Champions against restaurant chefs from across the state.

"A chef like this goes beyond the typical aspirations of being recognized as on of the great chefs of North Carolina," said Dining Competition host and founder Jimmy Crippen. "Ryan humbly honed his craft while realizing that, through his cooking, he can help people heal. Not only that, but he has the vision to realize this is much bigger than just him. As he shares his way of life with other hospitals, they too realize the powerful role good food plays in the world."

Conklin's culinary creations earned him top honors.

“We were really tactical in designing a menu we knew diners would enjoy,” said Conklin.

Conklin brings the same approach to his work at UNC Rex Healthcare.

“Let’s create a memory here. That’s what we try to do on a regular basis,” he said.

Diners and patients are giving him rave reviews.

“I ordered two entrees and they said you can only do one and I said I’ll do the Caprese salad tomorrow night then,” said patient Heather Lilly.

Conklin can work in any restaurant, but that takes a lot of time. He said that working at the hospital allows him to be a family man.

“I can raise a family, be a good dad. It’s really special,” he said.

Conklin runs the culinary services at UNC Rex like a family. He said it’s about quality of life and hiring quality chefs who are as passionate about food as he is.


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  • Evan Morris Nov 12, 2015
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    If only WRAL had run this story before I had to do a two week stay at Wake Med.....

  • Wayne Douglas III Nov 11, 2015
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    Just about 2 months back, I did a stint at UNC's Burn Center. The food menu, was 16 pages and included various ethnicities. I was amazed, at the quality of the food.