10 Questions with Jill Sanger
The executive chef at Cape Cod Hospital finds recipe for success in the healthcare food service industry.
As a young girl growing up in Falmouth, Jill Sanger could often be found in the kitchen baking and cooking alongside her grandmother. Preparing the family meals soon came naturally to Sanger. After high school, she was put to her first culinary test at a local restaurant.
The chef verbally gave her instructions to make chocolate mousse cake. He said, “This is foolproof. If you can’t do it, you don’t have the job.” Sanger successfully completed the challenge, the cake was served to customers later that day, and the rest is history. Over the years, Sanger has worked in Upper Cape restaurants overseeing ordering, production and operations.
All of these life experiences helped prepare Sanger for her job as executive chef at Cape Cod Hospital. In her role, Sanger is responsible for supervising kitchen operations; ensuring quality and consistency of food preparation; and planning menus based on the nutritional needs and special diets of patients.
Although some items are premade, Sanger says several offerings are prepared from scratch, including meatloaf and macaroni and cheese (a popular menu item). Sanger estimates about 900 to 1,100 people purchase food daily in the cafeteria, everything from chips and a soda to a full meal. Special-themed meals help build buzz and excitement, including Smokehouse Day (featuring smoked beef brisket and barbecue pulled chicken); Chinese Day (Zen bowl, chicken fingers and egg rolls); and Italian Day (chicken parmesan, shrimp scampi and two different kinds of pasta and sauces).
Sanger dreams of someday having a garden outside the dining hall and a hydroponic garden inside so staff has access to fresh herbs and greens. “I want the patient trays to look nice,” says Sanger. As executive chef, Sanger’s goal is to consistently improve the menus and elevate the food presentation. Although Sanger admits she doesn’t enjoy the center of attention, we convinced her to sit down with us for a quick chat.
What led you to Cape Cod Hospital?
Fate. Before I started here last November, I worked at Siena restaurant—I used to do all of the ordering and production work there. I had a friend there who is now one of the line cooks at Falmouth Hospital. She was telling me that working in healthcare is a great job, with great benefits, and if I wanted to get out of the hustle and bustle of the restaurant world, to try it out. She put me in touch with Bill O’Brien, Director of Food Services at Cape Cod Hospital, who said I was too qualified to be just a cook. He asked, “Would you want to be an executive chef? We just lost ours.” Our paths crossed a few times over three or four months and he encouraged me to put in an application.
What was your first job? What was your big takeaway?
Pie in the Sky in Woods Hole. It was my first job in the real world. I learned that hard work and being responsible pays off. I was 16 when I started. In a month and a half, I got my first raise and promotion. I was in charge of the college kids for the summer. I looked older than I was, so they didn’t know that I was only 16. I would go home and think, “I can’t believe I am in charge of all of these college kids.” I developed a good work ethic. I would be the opener; they relied on me to open the bakery. If I wasn’t there on time, the bakery didn’t open on time. I started out as a cashier, then every other day, I would help bake, and I learned cake decorating.
What are you putting off at the moment?
Power washing my house.
What life advice would you give to people?
I often hear young people say, “It’s my dream to do this …” You have to make a plan. Write down what you want you to accomplish and work toward it. You’re not going to get your dream by dreaming about it. I’m a big note taker and I’m a list maker, and that applies to real life, to goals, to dreams. Keep it in the forefront of your head and make your decisions based on what you want you in the future.
If you had another career, what would it be?
Before I started here, I actually had two jobs. I worked at Siena restaurant, and I also worked for the Barnstable County Sherriff’s office as a dispatcher for seven years. I was trained to be a 9-1-1 operator. So that’s probably what I would do if I wasn’t doing this. I was a C-Med operator in charge of patching the ambulances through to Cape Cod Hospital as well as four other hospitals. I usually worked the midnight shift and I would coordinate med flights. I earned my first responder, emergency medical dispatch and 9-1-1 certificates.
What do you keep an emergency supply of?
I always keep backup supplies of everything—all of my toiletries (shampoo, moisturizer)—and wine. You don’t want to be in a snowstorm without wine.
What does everyone need in their kitchen?
A good knife.
Name something you can’t do:
I can’t dance or ski.
If not on the Cape, where would you live?
Near a beach. But if not by a beach, I would live in Colorado. I went to Aspen for a cousin’s wedding and fell in love. It’s gorgeous.
Do you have a hidden passion or talent?
I can make wedding cakes.