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Dr. Kevin Marzo: the Cardiac Chef

Winthrop’s Chief of Cardiology

The patient was being prepped for a cardiac cath when he looked up at his doctor and asked, “Is that garlic I smell?” Smiling and nodding in acknowledgement, Dr. Kevin Marzo, chief of cardiology at Winthrop University Hospital, then skillfully used his scalpel to cut open a blood vessel and inserted a life saving stent for the man. Two hours later that night, Dr. Marzo traded his white coat and scalpel for a chef’s coat and carving knife. He and his “sous chef” Joe Dardano, who is his physician assistant during the day, whipped up heart healthy meals of salmon, pork loin, and skillet lasagna for 50 students and their parents from The Explorer’s Club.

Meet Dr. Kevin Marzo, also known as the cardiac chef. Great ideas are sometimes born over small meals and this was the case when Dr. Marzo and Dardano, both who share a passion for cooking, teamed up and started traveling throughout Long Island, teaching people how to cook heart healthy meals. Twenty years ago they started working and cooking together in the cardiac cath lab.

“We had a modified kitchen and in between cases that could go long into the night, Joe and I started cooking on a George Foreman grill. We both like to eat and we wanted to eat healthy meals.” Over sesame crusted tuna and saffron rice, Dr. Marzo thought about using eating and cooking as a platform for educating people about cardiovascular disease prevention and lifestyle choices. “You can cook as well as many restaurants and in fact you can do it cheaper, better and on your own terms. The principles of learning how to cook are using good fresh food and understanding how to layer food.”

Soon he and Dardano took their cardiac cooking show on the road speaking before banks, the Lions club, and the Explorers club which is an organization designed to expose high school students to career opportunities, leadership experience and life skills.

“Students are faced with many issues in their high school and college years,” Dr. Marzo commented, “so through cooking I wanted to show them how to integrate cardiovascular and healthy choices as they grow up, and those choices start as they pick food in the high school cafeteria and how they pick their lifestyle choices both in food and drink. An adolescent isn’t worried about a heart attack. When I’m talking to young people it is more important to stress healthy eating, balanced food and portion control and not using an excess amount of salt or sugar-based products and sodas.”

One of the challenges faced by the on-the-road cooking was the limitation of the kitchens available to them. Barbara George, RN, the program director of Women’s Cardiovascular Wellness and Prevention Center came up with an idea, the portable kitchen. “I had my kitchen contractor build it and we chose to make it of olive wood. The olive tree symbolizes health and wellness and the trees live for many years so this was the perfect choice,” said George. The portable kitchen, which assembles in 30 minutes is used by both the cardiology department and the diabetes center as a valuable teaching tool.

Dr. Marzo has also started teaching the interns and residents how to cook heart healthy meals and is trying to incorporate this into their education when they take a history and physical on patients. “Residents should really focus on a dietary history of patients, what they eat, what goes into their meals and what I call the last three meals, breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” Patients will often eat a donut for breakfast or two slices of pizza for dinner when there are healthier food choices.

Chuckling, Dr. Marzo admits he got burned one time asking this question to one of his patients. “I hadn’t seen this patient for a few years but he got all of the meal questions right. Then he looked at me and said, ‘What did you have for dinner last night Dr. Marzo? I know what you had. I was watching the Met’s game and saw you behind third base eating a frankfurter.’” Sheepishly Dr. Marzo admitted to the patient that, “Yes, once a year I eat a frankfurter.”