Published on November 02, 2015

UNC REX Hospital Chefs Crowned Winners of Statewide Competition Dining Series

Victory in “Got to Be NC” contest is latest chapter in mission to reinvent “hospital food”

RALEIGH, N.C. – UNC REX Hospital Executive Chef Ryan Conklin is on a mission to reinvent the reputation of hospital food. The latest chapter came on Halloween night, when Conklin led a team of UNC REX chefs that won the final Battle of Champions in the statewide “Got to BE NC” Competition Dining Series. The year-long contest featured more than 60 chefs, mostly from fine-dining restaurants across North and South Carolina.

Ryan Conklin, Collin Jennings, and Steve PextonLast Spring, Conklin and his team were the only hospital chefs invited to compete in a Triangle-region Competition Dining Series. Initially seen as “dark horse” contenders, they emerged as the winners over 15 fine-dining restaurant chefs. That victory gave them a spot in the statewide Battle of Champions in Raleigh, which kicked off last week and culminated in the final battle on Saturday, Oct. 31. In the finale, Conklin’s team defeated a team led by Chef Brent Martin of The Summit Room in Charlotte.

“A lot of people didn’t expect us to be here in the end, but we proved that health care has great food too,” Conklin said. “We’ve transformed UNC REX into a chef-led culinary program that continues to show that a hospital can provide its patients and visitors with fresh, delicious and healthy food.”

In addition to winning contests and earning international recognition for UNC REX cuisine, Conklin and UNC REX chefs help other hospitals around the country improve their food. He also teaches kids and students about healthy cooking and holds workshops at The Chefs Academy and other schools. UNC REX was one of the first hospitals in the Southeast to remove its deep fryers, and its chefs tend a courtyard garden that produces fresh herbs and vegetables for its menus.

Conklin’s Competition Dining team included UNC REX chefs Steve Pexton and Collin Jennings. During three dramatic cook-off battles in past week, they created masterpiece courses that dazzled diners and professional judges using secret ingredients such as fresh North Carolina seafood, and vegetables from the State Farmers Market in Raleigh.

MEDIA NOTE: Ryan Conklin, Executive Chef at UNC REX Hospital, is available for interviews about new hospital food, and cooking demonstrations. Please contact Alan Wolf, 919-218-7103 or