Thursday, February 24, 2011 [updated Wednesday, September 7, 2011]

Chef Jim Watkins Stirs up Plans for the Bastyr Cafeteria

Bastyr cafeteria director Jim Watkins working in the kitchen.
New food services director Jim Watkins is bringing change to Bastyr.

Change is on the menu at the Bastyr Cafeteria after experienced culinary chef Jim Watkins took over as director of food services February 7, 2011. But he suggests you order a side of patience if you're expecting to see his additions to the whole-food cafeteria instantly appear.

"I want whatever I do here to be lasting and substantial, to meet the mission and the goals of the school," Watkins says. "It's not going to happen overnight."

Watkins, the founding chef of iconic Seattle vegetarian restaurant Cafe Flora, instead says the changes will gradually be rolled out, and that frequent visitors to the award-winning cafeteria might notice some new items as early as mid-March.

Although the cafeteria has served the public and students tasty and healthy vegetarian dishes for decades, the University is excited to see it expand and grow. Under Watkins' leadership, you can expect to see more grab-and-go items in the cafeteria, including fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as a bigger emphasis on healthy homemade snacks and to-go meals. For snacks, think fresh hummus and homemade pastries that cater to distinct dietary needs, and envision prepackaged complete meals for those on the run.

One eventual change could be a significant departure from the usual plant-based menu: servings of meat. Watkins hopes to add high-quality meats such as seafood and poultry to the selection, but vegetarians and vegans can relax: These items most likely will be packaged separately from the cafeteria's regular fare.

"Any meats would be introduced to the cafeteria in a very respectful way," he explains. For years, students, staff and faculty have been requesting healthful, organic meat as an option, so now that the cafeteria is linked with the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science, it's a good time to start exploring it, he says.

Watkins hopes to find new ways to serve the local community through the Bastyr Cafeteria and Food Services. For example, he would like to bring a farmers market to campus, which could help supplement the fresh, local produce the cafeteria already uses from the Bastyr Medicinal Herb Garden. In addition, it would offer busy students, staff and faculty, as well as people from the local community a convenient way to bring healthy produce home.

Watkins also hopes to provide the public with a new go-to source for quality catering.

"Catering is a really good way to get Bastyr's name out in the community and increase people's access to healthy cuisine," he says.

Although Watkins is perhaps best known locally for his ties with Cafe Flora, his connection with a whole-food diet began on the farm where he was born: His family grew their own vegetables, baked fresh bread every day and raised their own chickens.

"I grew up eating really good, healthy food. Everything was fresh," he said. "There's nothing like the taste of a fresh-picked tomato ripened by the sun.

"It was a really good culinary start to my life."

While Watkins began his career as a social worker, he returned to his culinary roots more than two decades ago. Since then, his culinary expertise has only grown, with positions as chef of a health spa that served organic vegetables grown in its own garden; pastry chef at a high-end vegetarian restaurant; executive chef at the University of Washington; and executive chef at the Lifelong AIDS Alliance, where he made therapeutic meals for people living with HIV/AIDS and other illnesses.

"This feels like the culmination of my career," Watkins said. "I can bring to this position everything I've done in my working life."

The cafeteria is open daily to the public and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner most days. Visit the Bastyr Cafeteria online for hours and the daily menu. Learn more about catering options through Bastyr University Catering Services or email confer[at]bastyr[dot]edu.

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