046 – Otis Sims & Denis Callinan, UVA Hospital

UVA Hospital

Chef Denis Callinan and Chef Otis Sims

Healing Work. It’s pretty fashionable to be a chef these days. But it’s not always about the $40 plate. It’s also about the $5 plate and the hard-working chefs toiling to create fresh, healthy, and yes, DELICIOUS food in America’s hospitals. Meet Chef Otis Sims and Executive Chef Denis Callinan of UVA Hospital Nutrition Services. Classically trained culinary professionals making sure patients, staff, visitors, and folks in our community are getting the very best, most flavorful, and healthy dishes possible. This is high-level cooking. Have you eaten at UVA Hospital lately? This isn’t mushy potatoes, greasy pizza, and Jell-O squares. I’m talking made-to-order shrimp and grits, fried chicken, and barbecue smoked for 18-20 hours on-site!

Chef Otis Sims and I talk about how he learned to cook from his grandmother before heading to Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte. “Chef O” as he’s known to fans has cooked at Westwood Racquet Club and the Country Club of Virginia before arriving at UVA. He loves putting his own twist on classic French cuisine and cites Thomas Keller as a personal favorite, hoping to one day eat at The French Laundry. He experiments often with his home sous-vide machine, although his son would rather be eating chicken tenders. No wonder his pork loin with honey-thyme glaze and goat cheese/chive mashed potatoes took top honors at this year’s Iron Chef competition at the Tom Tom Founder’s Festival!

We’re joined by Executive Chef Denis Callinan, who trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park and previously worked at William & Mary as well as several restaurants and resorts in Florida. Chef Denis doesn’t just run the kitchen, but acts as a mentor, allowing Chef O and his colleagues to create menus, develop recipes, and experiment with flavors, often using the Escoffier Cookbook as a reference. Because as long as you can “Cook Outside the Box But Inside the Budget” you ensure your customers, in this case, patients, receive the best the kitchen has to offer. Because if you’re a hospital patient the meal is the highlight of your day. Your first path to healing. If it tastes awful, your stay becomes that much worse. And if it does taste bad? No worries. You can expect Chefs Sims and Callinan to visit your room IN THEIR TOQUES. They make these visits regularly to gather comments, criticism, but most of the time, accolades. What other hospital does that?

These chefs are breaking preconceived notions about hospital food and pride themselves on creating the best patient menus in America. Despite producing thousands of meals per day, they are committed to local sourcing. A recent acquisition of 7,000 pounds of Polyface sausage through the help of Local Food Hub (a past podcast guest), means guests can now enjoy locally-produced meats in breakfast sandwiches and dinner entrées. That’s not all. Sunday nights mean 20-hour braised Texas pot roast. Grilled salmon happens on Tuesday nights. There are gyros with pickled jalapeños. Beef stroganoff made with filet mignon. You heard right, FILET MIGNON.

In addition to cooking and working alongside dietitians to develop individual nutrition plans for patients, these chefs also cook for staff, visitors, and do all the catering for large hospital events. Last year’s holiday party required 10,000 meals. They also provide meals for a local childcare center and Meals on Wheels. Phew! That’s a TON of food!

We also discuss big changes in the works for UVA Hospital Café. When it’s this good you can’t call it a cafeteria. When renovations are finished this December, you’ll find a vertical rotisserie, new made-to-order stations, a larger dining room, and many other expanded options and choices for dining whether you’re visiting a patient or just grabbing lunch.

What do “Essential Employee” chefs do when there’s a huge snowstorm? What produce are they not allowed to use because of extreme sanitation guidelines the hospital requires? What is the hospital doing to lower their carbon footprint? Listen to find out. After talking with Chefs Sims and Callinan, I’ve decided two things. I need to have lunch at the hospital way more often because it’s the best-kept secret in Charlottesville. And some smart investor needs to snap up Chef O for their next restaurant. Because he’s the real deal.

This episode is sponsored by In A Flash Laser Engraving.




Image by Tom Tom Founder's Festival.

Image by Tom Tom Founder’s Festival.


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  • Chef de Cuisine Ian McGrory


    Otis is the best “great attitude” chef that I have ever been honored to know and to have worked with. He knows his stuff and does everything that it takes to present the perfect meal. His expertise is evident in all of his preparation and presentation. This chef truly cares deeply about his patrons and never fails in delivery of his meals. I am privileged to work with Otis as he offers his services to my establishment in times where I need a professional chef to assist. Otis is the most genuine and sincere guy under a white coat that you could ever imagine to have on your team.

    • I could not agree more! Not only is his food scrumptious, but his upbeat, positive attitude brings so much to the proverbial table. Thank you so much for your comments! And for your support of the Edacious podcast. Happy Thanksgiving!