Grace Cottage food service manager receives national award

Denise Choleva
Denise Choleva. Photo provided

TOWNSHEND, Vt. – Grace Cottage Family Health & Hospital Food Service Manager Denise Choleva has been named the Certified Dietary Manager of the Month by the national Association of Nutrition & Foodservice Professionals. Choleva has worked in food service at Grace Cottage for 22 years and has managed the department since 2002.

Choleva started her training for this career as a child, helping her grandmother with her catering business. She attended high school at Franklin County Technical School in Turners Falls, Mass., studying culinary arts and working in restaurants and a grocery deli.

In her position at Grace Cottage, she promotes camaraderie among her staff with the slogan that “teamwork makes the dream work.” She calls herself a “working manager” and regularly works in the kitchen alongside her staff. Grace Cottage Hospital receives many thank you notes from former inpatients who comment on how much they appreciated the delicious food created by Choleva’s department. “I have the best team a girl could ask for,” she says.

Choleva says that her training to become a certified dietary manager and a certified food protection professional has been invaluable to her work at Grace Cottage.

She values innovation. The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed the Grace Cottage food service department to innovate by shifting from a serve-yourself salad bar to grab-and-go items. These and the hot food choices accommodate a range of dietary preferences and needs, from vegetarian and gluten-free to traditional meals with health-conscious adaptations. Composting and recycling are also an important part of the department’s processes.

In her menu planning, Choleva also emphasizes fresh and local foods. “We have lots of local farmers and we purchase as much local and sustainable foods as possible,” she said, adding, “I am lucky in southern Vermont to have Food Connects, who works with local farmers to distribute their items. Last year, 38% of our food expenses supported local producers.” Grace Cottage has signed the U.S.-Canadian Healthy Food in Healthcare pledge.

Choleva has been a member of ANFP since 2001. She has served as secretary, treasurer, and president for the Vermont ANFP and was recently chosen as a subject matter expert for the national ANFP credentialing exam task force. She is also involved with the Vermont Healthy Food in Healthcare Workgroup.

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