The Bastyr University community already knew chef Jim Watkins was special. Now much of Seattle knows, too. The Seattle Times Sunday magazine, Pacific Northwest, recently profiled the Bastyr Dining Commons chef, unearthing a story that was new even to many at Bastyr.
Watkins told The Times he didn't really learn to love food or understand its relationship to health until his late 20s. The story traces his path from a childhood in Baltimore, eating a traditional African-American Southern diet, through 20 years as a social worker in Minnesota and finally to his decision to return to school for culinary training.
From there, his passion took him to the noted Seattle vegetarian restaurant Café Flora and then to a high-profile experiment in fresh campus food at the University of Washington. When that program stagnated, Watkins moved on, becoming executive chef for the Lifelong AIDS Alliance, and finally joining Bastyr as director of food services in early 2011.
His first move here was a bold one: introducing responsibly sourced meat to Bastyr's vegetarian menu. Reporter Providence Cicero tells the story:
He did it respectfully, setting up a station apart from the main cafeteria line. "I thought it was going to be a big point of contention," Watkins says, even though, as part of the interview process, he met with students who were members of the Carnivore Club. "For the first month and a half, I prepared the meat myself, two different choices a day. I served it myself, too, so that I could be the person to hear any criticism." But people lined up.
Watkins has also added a sandwich bar, a waffle bar, vegan and raw options and themed meals such as a Chinese New Year celebration. At the same time, the Dining Commons has adhered to the University's whole-food nutrition philosophy, which focuses on eating a wide variety of plant-based foods in unprocessed forms.
Watkins continues to challenge the community as well:
He would like to see more "mindful eating," where people close their books and computers, put down their phones and look at their food.
"Maybe that's impossible to achieve on a campus," he says. "Maybe people don't have the time to slow down and eat, but I'm committed to it."