This time of year, we focus on giving – giving gifts and giving of ourselves to those in need. Chef Kenny Wagoner, executive chef of Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Southwestern Regional Medical Center in Tulsa, is in the business of giving his talents, nutritious food and a hopeful spirit to cancer patients who need it most.

For this Irish-born chef, the quest is a highly personal one, as his own mother was diagnosed with cancer in 1997.

After living in several cities across the U.S. and completing an apprenticeship at the Westin Hilton Head in South Carolina, Wagoner settled in Tulsa and took the culinary reins of Tulsa’s Cancer Treatment Centers of America in 2003.

Besides all of the lives that Wagoner touches on a daily basis through his work, he is also credited with starting Chefs for the Cure, an annual event that raises money for the Susan G. Komen Foundation for cancer research and education.

On a day-to-day basis, Wagoner strives to offer patients the freshest, highest quality food possible. Of course, nutrition is important, but even more important is the idea that the patients should eat anything that sounds appealing. The body has to have food in order to heal, but no one is going to eat something that simply does not sound good. Although patients are given options based on dietary needs and wants, they are not bound to those choices.

Wagoner says he has a huge pantry and access to any food patients might want. Whether the request is as sophisticated as lobster tail or as simple as a hamburger, Wagoner is dedicated to doing whatever it takes to help the patients. He adds that familiar, home-style foods like meatloaf, stews and casseroles are most popular because they remind the patients of a time before cancer.

“By offering the patients choices, we give them back some of the control that the cancer took from them. They may not be able to control aspects of their care, like chemo or side effects, but they can control what they eat. The food represents so much more than just sustenance for the body,” he says.

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Cream Sauce

Makes 4 servings
1 lb. butternut squash
1/2 c. diced onions, sautéed
1/4 c. diced prosciutto ham
1/4 c. diced red pepper
1/4 c. chopped walnuts
2 oz. Boursin cheese
3 tbsp. maple syrup
1 tsp. cinnamon
Pinch of salt and pepper
1 lb. pasta dough or wonton wraps
1 egg beaten

Sage Cream Sauce
1/4 c. butter
1/4 c. flour
1 1/2 c. chicken broth, warmed
1 1/2 c. half and half, warmed
Salt and pepper to taste
Freshly ground nutmeg
2 fresh sage leaves

For the ravioli:
Mix first nine ingredients well and set aside. Cut dough into desired shapes. Brush with a little egg. Place a small amount of filling in center of dough. Top with another piece of pasta and crimp edges to seal. Repeat process until all filling is used.

Bring a quart of salted water to a boil. Place ravioli in simmering water and cook for about three minutes. Remove and serve with sage cream sauce.

For the sauce:
In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly for a couple of minutes. Whisk in the warmed chicken broth, half and half, seasonings and sage leaves. Cook and stir over medium heat until bubbly; continue cooking for another minute or two. Remove sage leaves and toss sauce with ravioli.

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