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Chef Cooks To Heal


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If you are familiar with pet, art, music and dance therapy, then you have heard of the benefits of what one would call non-traditional therapies.  Here’s a new one to add to the list: Culinary Therapy. For those of us who love to cook, it totally makes sense. Cooking can be very therapeutic and relaxing no matter how challenging the recipe may seem. Whether it’s the process, the end result, or just having fun with food, cooking can give focus, energy, and a feeling of accomplishment.

Verona resident, and now practicing chef, Cardie Mortimer has taken his Cardie Cooks love of food and cooking and launched into Culinary Therapy. I recently had the opportunity to watch a class at Morris View Nursing Home and I have to say that  Mortimer enjoyed it as much as, if not more than, the 40 to 50 residents and staff who attended.

How did this all get started? After major back surgery 18 months ago, Mortimer found himself in the position in which most of us wish we would never have to be: he was unable to move his left leg and had to learn how to walk again. Angry about what had happened, lonely in the hospital, and enduring extremely painful physical therapy, he made a promise to God: If he recovered, he would give back. Now, he’s recovered and giving back with Culinary Therapy.

Mortimer gave his first show on his last day in the Caldwell Care Center,  complete with Jambalaya and jokes. Everyone who helped him in his recovery was invited to attend, and the delicious food was his gift back to the staff. According to Mortimer, there was a line out the door.

Culinary Therapy starts with Mortimer recounting his hospital experience. He shares his story with the patients who are at his event and they know through his story telling that he understands much of how they feel. Through food and humor, Mortimer brings them into his world beyond the walls of the nursing or rehabilitation facility.

Who receives Culinary Therapy? Anyone who is a resident at the facility which has contracted Mortimer for a show. While the event I saw was held at Morris View Nursing Home there are future events planned for Caldwell Care Center on August 17th and Emeritus in Wayne, NJ on September 22nd. The events are open to both patients and staff and anyone else who wants to see, although the patients have first opportunity. While the attendees I saw ranged in health and need, they were happy to have a story shared with them, a few jokes told, and the benefit of tasting healthy grilled food. Mortimer is willing, and looking forward to, going to any place where people need to be entertained. While Mortimer has started with healthcare facilities for his Culinary Therapy, he has also had meetings with various country clubs in New Jersey to give shows for their members. His feeling: everyone can benefit from a little culinary therapy.

The benefits of Culinary Therapy are pure and simple. For the patients, it’s entertainment; something to take one’s mind off of a health situation or issue. For Mortimer, it’s the benefit of seeing the patients and staff smile. He notices people sitting up straighter in wheel chairs, taking oxygen masks off to laugh, and the excitement I witnessed when one woman yelled out, “tastes good!”

When shows end, Mortimer feels as emotional as the patients. He has given back, made people laugh, and if he’s lucky changed someone’s life even if only for a day. Mortimer’s head chef Debra (who has asked that her last name not be printed) is a practicing medical doctor. She says that laughter “is a prescription we don’t know how to write.” Mortimer encourages that laughter and as I witnessed, partakes in it for himself too.

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