From 5-Star Hotel to 5-Star Hospital: Executive Chef Brings Culinary Talents to Silver Cross
Unconventional is a good way to describe how Silver Cross Hospital Executive Chef Levi Ealding got into cooking. Ealding, who has worked as a professional chef at the Ritz Carlton and several other well-known establishments, was working as a dishwasher in his native Australia when the restaurant’s head chef offered him a job.
“I was actually saving up money to go snowboarding, and I was very quick at my job,” Ealding explained. “The chef said to me that if I ever wanted to get an apprenticeship at the restaurant then it was open for me. So, when I came back from snowboarding, I started.”
Unconventional is also a great way to describe how the 6-foot-6-inch Australian wound up at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox. From cooking in a high-end seafood restaurant in Chicago to working through and surviving Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, his career has taken him all over the world – and it’s reflected in the delicious meals he prepares at the hospital.
It started in Australia with a four-year apprenticeship at the restaurant where he washed dishes. Down under, students learning the culinary arts work for the restaurant, which then pays for school.
“They don’t pay you much,” Ealding said. “But they pay for school so you don’t come out with a huge debt. Plus, you get all that practical experience as well.”
Originally from Noosa Heads, Queensland, in Australia, Ealding brought his culinary talents to Silver Cross about two years ago.
In addition to the Seasons Dining Room, Silver Cross has two specialty cafés, all of which fall under Ealding’s expertise. In the short time he’s been at the hospital, he’s added his world-class touches to the menu and implemented a new room-service plan for patients.
Levi’s room-service plan provides patients with a menu and dozens of delicious and nutritious food choices. What’s more, as long as the kitchen is open, they can order when they want to eat.
“It’s great to see that we can provide made-to-order food in a different way instead of a regular tray line where it’s just a line of plates with the same food going out,” he said.
Ealding says time spent cooking at a 5-star luxury hotel in Chicago gave him the know-how to create a first-class room-service menu for patients at Silver Cross.
“I was in charge of room service there, so that helped when we were implementing the new program here,” he said.
Levi also honed his culinary talents at a top hotel in London and a restaurant in the French Quarter of New Orleans. In between, he backpacked across Greece and Italy where he met his wife, Cari, an American from Grand Rapids, Mich.
They ended up moving to New Orleans in 2005 where he worked at a restaurant in the French Quarter. Six months later, Hurricane Katrina hit and destroyed the house they had just finished remodeling.
“We went on a vacation for a week, and when we got back we had to evacuate that same day,” Ealding recalls. “The house sat under six feet of water for a month.”
They stayed in the Big Easy until 2008, when his wife started graduate school at the University of Chicago. Later that year, he got a job at a Lettuce Entertain You restaurant in Chicago, where he worked for several years. In 2012, he moved to a well-known tapas restaurant where he revolutionized their bread-baking program. Not long after that, Ealding switched industries to healthcare, and he’s been heading up Silver Cross’s food service ever since. He loves the creativity that cooking and the culinary arts offer, and it shows. Patients and visitors alike regularly compliment the hospital on its superior food selections.
But for Ealding, there’s even more to it than that.
“I really like the structure of the kitchen and how regimented that it has to be in order to ensure each meal is up to our standards,” he adds. “It has to be great every time.”