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Born, Raised and Back Again: Chef Returns to Macon to Change Perceptions About Food

Josh Nowell

Josh Nowell started his life at Atrium Health Navicent The Medical Center. Through the years, his path has led him far from his Macon roots, but now, as head of nutrition for the hospital where he was born, he’s back home where it all began, working not just to ensure patients, visitors and teammates have access to healthy food, but that they have a truly positive experience.

“People don’t think of hospital food as good, and I want to change people’s perceptions,” Nowell said. “I go on the floor and do rounds. I’ll go up and I’ll visit patients and have conversations with them, because the food is only a part of what we do. It’s really just giving that care, that attention to detail, that listening ear. Making that personal connection really reminds me why I’m doing what I’m doing.”

Raised in Macon’s Village Green neighborhood, Nowell attended Mercer University for a few months before deciding to go to culinary school a month after turning 18. Cooking for others brought him joy, and he enjoyed seeing the happiness his food brought to them.

He earned a culinary degree at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Orlando, Florida. Then, after training with chefs from the Walt Disney World Resort and The Cloister on Sea Island, he ran operations in restaurants, hotels and casinos in Arkansas.

The first position he took in food service outside of traditional restaurants was with a private school in Arkansas. It was there he realized his management skills could help leave an even bigger impact on others than what he could create in the kitchen.

“I used the skills I developed to make a positive change for people, addressing and teaching kids who’d never seen chicken not come from a box or chicken meat on a bone. I used my skills to introduce new things and grow excitement. I wanted to challenge the idea of what school food could be,” he said.

After Nowell and his wife had their first child, they made the move back home to Macon.

“We decided that we really wanted to settle down somewhere that we knew people, that felt like home, so my wife and I decided to move back to Macon,” he said.

After leading culinary operations for various private schools in Macon, Nowell joined Morrison Healthcare. Nowell started at Atrium Health Navicent as a senior executive chef, then moved into a regional executive chef role overseeing culinary excellence for Atrium Health facilities in Georgia and North Carolina. In December 2022, Nowell transitioned to his role as head of the nutrition department at Atrium Navicent Health The Medical Center.

Nowell said his long-term goals align with the goals he’s had throughout his life — changing perceptions of food and bringing people joy.

“For the next two years, I really want to work to increase the quality of food here and change people’s perceptions of what hospital food is. We are part of the circle of care just like nurses and doctors are. Everyone has a role in getting patients better and back home,” he said. “We can serve healthful and nutritious meals, but they also need to be tasty. We are hoping to elevate that to continue our part in getting patients get back home to their families and in better condition than when they got here.”

Despite his busy role in management, Nowell said he still makes time to sneak into the kitchen.

“Occasionally I’ll go back there and whip something up in the kitchen and get in their way,” Nowell said. “But what I’ve found in my career — after working as a pastry chef, executive chef, regional executive chef — is that while that’s fun, I realize my gift is in coordinating and logistics and helping make sure we are aligned with a common purpose. We have excellent chefs here at the hospital. To give them guidance in culinary skills is great, but to help them see the bigger picture is even better.”

Clearly, Nowell’s success in his role is not just because of his love for cooking, it’s also because of his passion for serving his community.

“I don’t always have time to reflect on it, but I came from humble beginnings. I was born upstairs, grew up in Macon, and found my way back. Macon has a special place in my heart,” he said. “It’s been an honor, a privilege, and a joy to be able to give back to the community that’s helped raise me and have a part in bringing a little bit of joy and comfort to all the patients that come through our doors here.”


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