Throughout his 10 years at St. Jude, Will Gotay, better known as Chef Will,
has received thousands of compliments on his food—but recently his
meatloaf did more than inspire praise, it raised money for a worthwhile cause.
Will was one of over a dozen chefs featured at a fundraiser for Food Finders,
a nonprofit dedicated to rescuing food from restaurants and other venues
to feed the hungry. And although his competitors were chefs from a wide
range of high-end restaurants, it was Will’s mac-and-cheese-meatball
creation and his meatloaf and mashed potatoes (the same items served daily
on the patient menus) that had guests lining up.
“People kept complimenting Will’s dishes and asking ‘Are
you sure this is from a hospital?’” explains Karen Freeman,
Director of St. Jude Medical Center’s Food and Nutrition Services,
who served as Will’s assistant. The chefs were required to use “edible
extras or overages” and both of Will’s dishes featured food
left over from the hospital’s tray line that day.
Among the guests who kept coming back for more was a woman who announced
that after eating the meatloaf she was switching networks so she could
be hospitalized at St. Jude—as well as a 10-year-old who very solemnly
asked Will for his autograph and announced she had decided to become a chef.
“People found it very difficult to believe this was the same food
we serve our patients,” says Will, who was a chef at Trifecta in
Los Angeles, Citizen Smith in Hollywood, and Mastro’s in Beverly
Hills before joining St. Jude. “Our recipes and high-quality, non-processed
foods—like grass-fed beef, fresh salmon, fresh fruits and vegetables—allow
us to create a menu and options that aren’t available at other hospitals.”
The Food Finders’ fundraiser wasn’t the first time Chef Will’s
meatloaf has created an impact; in addition to receiving phone calls from
across the country asking for the recipe, patients have refused to be
discharged until they are served meatloaf one more time.
The reaction of fundraiser guests also helps explain why St. Jude’s
Food and Nutrition Services often earns near-perfect patient satisfaction
scores. “I love being able to use my gifts as a chef to create food
that not only improves our patients’ health, but brings joy to their
day,” he explains. Will was inspired to switch from restaurants
to St. Jude after his sister Gigi, a cancer patient on the east coast
who died of cervical cancer, made him promise to find a way to create
higher quality food for those facing life-threatening diseases. “Great
food is a comfort, a solace, a joy and even an inspiration,” Will
explains. “That’s what we want to offer our patients.”