Hospital Chef Keeps His Shopping List Local

Chancellor Gary S. May interviews Santana Diaz, executive chef of UC Davis Health, on Face to Face With Chancellor May.
Chancellor Gary S. May interviews Santana Diaz, executive chef of UC Davis Health, on Face to Face With Chancellor May.

This month’s guest on Face to Face With Chancellor May is showing not only can hospital food be tasty, but the people who prepare it can be renowned chefs.

Santana Diaz, executive chef for UC Davis Health, oversees the production of more than 6,500 meals each day. He’s served as the head chef for the Golden 1 Center and Super Bowl 50, and this year will oversee the exclusive Tower Bridge Dinner (Sept. 12) that is part of the Farm to Fork Festival in Sacramento.

“When you do a plated course for 823, the logistics to play that out can be challenging,” he told Chancellor Gary S. May.

But Diaz isn’t just about quantity — he focuses on quality food, and sourcing ingredients as close to Sacramento as possible. Not only does that support local farmers and ranchers, it made the hospital’s supply chain more robust during the pandemic.

Santana Diaz
Santana Diaz

“When some places were experiencing freight issues … we actually experienced no issues with respect to our food, because we were procuring from within the state — and a lot of it from within a couple hundred miles,” he said.

Diaz is the son of immigrants and comes from a family of ranchers and farmers in Mexico, and knows both the importance of food but also agriculture. He said within a year and a half of his arrival at UC Davis Health, the hospital had gone from using 16% local and sustainable ingredients to 41%. The hospital has since earned two “Smart Catch Leader” awards from the James Beard Foundation for sourcing sustainable seafood.

His team is also working to partner with others in the region. The Sacramento City Unified School District will soon use its new industrial kitchen — which will prepare 30,000 meals a day — to process ingredients for use by UC Davis Health.

Purple graphic with text "Face to Face with Chancellor May"

Watch the full video above for more, including Diaz’s “favorite bite” in the region, the food he can’t live without, the career path he almost pursued and how the chancellor hopes UC Davis Health’s food program will impact the community.

Face to Face With Chancellor May launched in March, and all five past episodes are available online, featuring:

  • Akshita Gandra, a senior majoring in cognitive science who founded The Revival Zine, an online publication focused on giving a voice to college students from around the country writing about feminism and social justice.
  • Theanne Griffith, an assistant professor in the Department of Physiology and Membrane Biology, School of Medicine, who is also a children’s book author.
  • Jennifer Gross, the head coach of the women’s basketball team.
  • Richard Michelmore, director of the UC Davis Genome Center of the architect of the university’s rapid on-campus COVID-19 testing.
  • Mahiri Moore Jr., a student with his own nonprofit organization focused on engaging Black and Latinx youths.

Media Resources

Cody Kitaura is a News and Media Relations Specialist in the Office of Strategic Communications, and can be reached by email or at 530-752-1932.

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