The Hacienda at the River, a Watermark retirement community in Tucson on River Road, serves as host for a post-pandemic reboot of a culinary health educational fundraising initiative begun four years ago by Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology Chief Juanita Merchant, MD, PhD.
That initiative, known as “Cookin’ Docs,” began with a video launch in April 2019 at an event, “Prevention vs. Intervention: A Debate Featuring Drs. Andrew Weil and Irving Kron,” hosted by University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins, MD, at Centennial Hall. Dr. Merchant served as a panelist at what was pitched as the #UAGreatDebate.
She, Dr. Weil – founder of the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine, which also functions as the Division of Integrative Medicine in the Department of Medicine – and other panelists discussed the importance of culinary variety in the diets of those suffering from gastrointestinal and other medical disorders for optimal health.
The upcoming event – “Docs in the Kitchen,” Saturday, June 10, 4-6 p.m. – builds on that theme, serving also as a fundraiser for the Gastroenterology division. The event brings together Hacienda at the River’s executive chef David Sullivan (left) with Dr. Merchant, Mindy Fain, MD, chief of the division of General Internal Medicine, Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine and co-director of the UArizona Center on Aging, and David Lieberman, MD, who’ll be participating in the cooking demonstration at the Tucson retirement community.
Prior to medical school, Dr. Lieberman (on right at right), who joined Dr. Fain’s division in July 2019, worked as a chef and cookbook author and hosted a Food Network series, “Good Deal with Dave Lieberman.” In his medical practice, he emphasizes diet and wellness in an overall holistic approach to health. Among his New York Times bestselling books are “10 Things You Need to Eat: And More Than 100 Easy and Delicious Ways to Prepare Them” (2009), “Dave’s Dinners: A Fresh Approach to Home-Cooked Meals” (2006) and “Young & Hungry: More Than 100 Recipes for Cooking Fresh and Affordable Food for Everyone” (2005).
“We’re glad to assemble such a great group for this inaugural event,” Dr. Merchant said. “We’re hoping to hold these quarterly on various nutritional topics based on dietary restrictions of a particular medical condition and how to add variety to what people are able to eat. There’s no reason why you can’t eat well. We’ll explore adding diversity to your diet with simple recipes anyone can follow and enjoy.”
Attendance at “Docs in the Kitchen” is limited and multiple invitations have been sent to prospective attendees. The cost of entry is $100, $70 of which qualifies as a tax-deductible donation to the University of Arizona Foundation. People wishing to attend are asked to call (520) 485-1060 to RSVP by June 8. Contact that same phone number for additional information on the event.
In the flyer for “Docs in the Kitchen” (click here or on image at left to see it), the event is pitched as a chance to learn about food as therapy, where attendees can “Savor the best of both worlds—a physician’s expertise and culinary excellence."
For this event, the meal being prepared will be ratatouille – which offers a lively dish for those who have to eat gluten-free. Small bites will be served during the presentation, followed by a buffet dinner. See the DOM Events listing to add this to your personal calendar.
Healthy eating doesn’t need to mean bland food necessarily, Dr. Merchant added. That’s true whether you’re focused on a gluten-free diet, a low sodium diet, or a low cholesterol diet. Allergies, diabetes, celiac disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are just a few issues that demand dietary restrictions.
A healthy diet also can lower your risk for heart disease and stroke, as well as help control other medical conditions related to your GI tract such as acid reflux (GERD), irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, she added.
In addition to Hacienda at the River, a Watermark Retirement Community at 2720 E. River Road, her team will be looking for other venues and physicians and chefs to collaborate with in that regard. That's true whether Cookin’ Docs events are held around town or on campus at UArizona, Dr. Merchant said.
About the Chef
With 30 years of food service experience, David Sullivan, MAEd, executive chef at Hacienda at the River, holds a University of Arizona bachelor’s degree and University of Phoenix master’s degree in education. He studied culinary arts at Pima Community College and restaurant management at Northern Arizona University. Sullivan apprenticed under Chef Jason Jonilonis at the Westward Look Resort and worked in many other Tucson area restaurants. He taught culinary arts at Ironwood Ridge High School and was a faculty member of the Culinary Arts Department at the Art Institute of Tucson for seven years. In addition, he was executive chef for three years at The Forum at Tucson, a senior living community, and at Cornerstone Hospital for one year. He also spent a season at McMurdo Station in Antarctica as sous chef. A former actor, director and writer in the Tucson theater world as well, Sullivan sees food and cooking as a form of performance art and a means to bring people together to add joy to their lives. In that respect, he finds food to be healing and transformative.
NOTE: For additional information on future Cookin’ Docs events, please contact Katherine Sepulveda, administrative associate, Division of Gastorenterology and Hepatology, email@example.com or (520) 626-3334.