UCI Health opens community teaching kitchen at family health center in Santa Ana

Center expands efforts to encourage nutritional eating among patients

July 22, 2019
UCI Health Teaching Kitchen Demonstration

Chef Jessica Vanroo conducts a demonstration during the grand opening of the Lois Eisenberg Teaching Kitchen at the UCI Health Family Health Center in Santa Ana on July 19, 2019. 

Photo: UCI Health

Amid the aroma of garlic, onion and myriad spices, UCI Health officially opened a gleaming new teaching kitchen at its bustling Family Health Center in Santa Ana. 

The nearly 1,100-square-foot, state-of-the-art Lois Eisenberg Teaching Kitchen opened July 19 and will be used for group cooking sessions for patients and a host of nutritional education programs for the surrounding community.

“Poor diet alone accounts for 40% of all deaths and disability,” UCI Health family medicine physician Dr. David B. Kilgore told a group of about 50 physicians, nurses, city and university officials, and donors gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The teaching kitchen was made possible by the support of the community and an estate gift from Lois Eisenberg, the late mother of Orange County philanthropist Susan Samueli, who established the UCI Health Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute. The institute offers innovative, patient-centered approaches to healthcare that is backed by the latest research. 

It is the fulfillment of a vision shared by Kilgore, Samueli and UCI Health cardiologist Dr. Shaista Malik, director of the Samueli institute, to promote nutrition as an essential way to prevent and reduce chronic ailments such as diabetes and heart disease.

“Food isn’t just fuel,” said Kilgore, who directs the integrative medicine residency track for the Department of Family Medicine in the UCI School of Medicine. “It’s powerful medicine with a capital M. Not a pill on the planet comes close to the multi-organ, every-cell-of-the-body impact food has.”

The Santa Ana facility, a federally qualified health center serving more than 30,000 patients a year, is an ideal location for such a nutrition education project. Many of its patients struggle with diet-related chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension and heart disease. 

“Thirteen percent of our patients have diabetes, and many more are pre-diabetic,” said Kilgore. “We’ve shown through our research that giving hands-on training in nutrition, along with health tips and recipes, translates to better lives for the patients we serve.”

The teaching kitchen will be used for group medical visits, providing hands-on cooking experiences for a wide variety of patients and learners, including adults with chronic conditions, children and families, expectant and postpartum mothers. 

It also will be a classroom for UCI medical students, residents and staff, as well as a resource for other community health centers that care for underserved patients. A curriculum already has been developed to teach: 

  • Hands-on nutritional education 
  • Cooking tips and skills to make food preparation easier and healthier 
  • Culturally appropriate culinary recipes

While UCI has joined dozens of medical schools to offer future physicians culinary medicine training, it is one of only a handful of institutions to take the teaching kitchen concept to a clinical setting. 

When Kilgore first proposed the idea of a community teaching kitchen about five years ago, he showed Samueli a forgotten document storage room on the second floor of the health center. 

“It seems like a dream,” Kilgore told attendees as he looked over the restaurant-caliber kitchen and reflected on Eisenberg's and Samueli's support. “Together, their vision turned a dingy old paper records room into a place to practice powerful 21st century medicine.”

The spacious kitchen and lecture area, built for about $750,000, is equipped with huge stainless steel-clad refrigerators, at least four ovens, multiple food-prep and cooking stations, tall tables for eating and a radiant heat demonstration stove. 

Opposite the demonstration stove, guests watched chef Jessica Vanroo demonstrate how to prepare a flavorful vegan meal — spiced barbacoa tempeh burrito bowl with pumpkin salsa and yogurt sauce, accompanied by roasted cauliflower. 

Vanroo, culinary program coordinator for the UC Irvine Anteater Recreation Center, also explained the best techniques for chopping onions, juicing a lime and separating garlic cloves. Kilgore, meanwhile, described how to activate the medicinal properties of garlic to maximize its cholesterol and blood-pressure lowering benefits. 

Before cutting the ceremonial ribbon, Samueli said her mother — a superb baker and a dedicated sixth-grade teacher nicknamed Lolie, who enjoyed helping her students and her San Fernando Valley community — would have been thrilled to see the kitchen built in her name.

“Lolie is here with us all today,” she said, “helping everyone cook.”


UCI Health comprises the clinical enterprise of the University of California, Irvine. Patients can access UCI Health at primary and specialty care offices across Orange County and at its main campus, UCI Medical Center in Orange, California. The 417-bed acute care hospital provides tertiary and quaternary care, ambulatory and specialty medical clinics, and behavioral health and rehabilitation services. UCI Medical Center is home to Orange County’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, high-risk perinatal/neonatal program and American College of Surgeons-verified Level I adult and Level II pediatric trauma center and regional burn center. UCI Health serves a region of nearly 4 million people in Orange County, western Riverside County and southeast Los Angeles County. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.