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Inspired to Cook

The chefs of Manna share their thoughts on food, health, and the culinary icons who inspire them

When you're in the mood for a nice meal out, the local hospital is probably not at at top of mind. But if you want to dine out in Castle Rock, maybe it should be. Because Manna, a restaurant located in Castle Rock Adventist Hospital, offers a menu that goes far beyond “hospital food.”

“We asked the question, ‘Who made the rule that you had to have a cafeteria in a hospital? Why couldn't we have a restaurant that was proactive in health care, not reactive?’” says Chef Dan Skay, Manna’s executive director. Influenced by his years of experience in the hospitality industry, Chef Dan was a driving force in developing the first full-service restaurant located in a hospital. He, along with Executive Chef Adam Freisem and Chef de Cuisine Will Fung, took some time out of a busy day to talk about what drives their passion for creating healthy, delicious food.

Holding a signed copy of Julia Child’s The Way to Cook, Chef Dan describes his feelings toward the iconic chef. “Julia learned French cuisine and showed Americans that they didn’t have to eat Jell-O. She taught us how to stretch our palate and try new things. She taught me that it’s all about understanding the basics; you have to start somewhere to be creative.”

Chef Adam agrees with that philosophy. “There’s no such thing as a new recipe. All chefs steal each other’s recipes, then experiment with them and tweak them to make them their own.” He says the chef who inspires him the most is Sean Brock. “I think Chef Sean is one of the most important chefs in our country because he does such a good job of bringing Southern cuisine back to life. He’s creating recipes using heritage grains, rices, and ingredients that kind of fell out of favor for a long time.” Although a Denver native, Chef Adam’s family has deep southern roots. A peek at that influence can be seen one of Manna sandwiches, the collard green melt.

One of Chef Will’s favorite chefs and cookbook authors is Thomas Keller, the owner the famous French Laundry restaurant. “I've always been driven by French cooking. And the thing Thomas Keller is good at is taking classic French dishes and incorporating local ingredients to appeal to Americans.”

All the chefs agree that food can—and should—be healthy, delicious, and beautiful. “One of the things I was taught is that you eat with your eyes before you eat with your mouth,” says Chef Dan. “And what looks visually stimulating, what looks appetizing to the eye, is typically going to be half your battle.”

Then, Chef Dan says, it comes down to remembering the basics to get to the right flavor profile. “We are looking at flavors that are unique, that are just hitting the market or are just on the edge of being popular. What's out there? What's popular, and what are people doing with it?

“In the end,” Chef Dan says, “I focus on how I can take care of the people who are coming in my door—how can I make them happy.”

Manna is open to the public Monday–Friday, 10:30 a.m.–8:00 p.m. Learn more at