UDS chef serves up a personal touch

Since November 2003, “Chef Jon” has been creating healthful recipes in Middlebrook Hall.

Emma Carew

Besides having an avid following among residence hall students, a Middlebrook Hall chef has a group of more than 40 members devoted to him on the Facebook, a Web site for college students.

Jon Collins, or “Chef Jon,” as students call him, is a University history senior, but he also works full time at the exhibition station in the Middlebrook Hall residential restaurant.

“He’s fabulous,” Residence Hall Director Tam Knapton said.

Collins adds a personal touch to students’ dining experiences, she said, because they can actually see him cooking the food.

“He adds more fun and entertainment,” said Brett Chin, assistant residence hall director.

“He’s really interested in (the students’) lives,” he said.

Since November 2003, Collins has been creating recipes and giving Middlebrook Hall students more healthful options.

For the most part, Collins said, he gets to create his own menus. He prepares lunch and dinner every day.

He said he tries to showcase more “whole foods,” such as fresh vegetables and whole grains, but that it can be limiting, depending on what University Dining Service orders.

Collins said that he first became interested in cooking when he became a vegan.

“It got really hard,” he said, “because all I had was one cookbook and a whole bunch of propaganda ” and that doesn’t feed you.”

He said students need to eat nutritious foods during college.

“I’ll run into students who used to live in Middlebrook and they’ll say, “Jon, you have to come cook for us; we’re starving!’ ” Collins said.

But not all students who once ate Collins’ food stay on the healthy track.

“I’m very disappointed in people who used to live in Middlebrook and are now subsisting on ramen or bleached pasta,” he said.

Collins said his favorite part of the job is interacting with the students and watching them transform and grow over the course of the year.

“They grow into more independent people,” he said.

Anthropology sophomore Erin Bonner has lived in Middlebrook Hall since last fall and said: “His personality is fantastic. He always has quirky comments and jokes.”

She said she also likes the fact that Collins’ dishes provide vegetarians with a better alternative to the salad bar.

“He’s definitely made my day and made my dining experience,” Bonner said. “It makes a big difference. I feel like it makes Middlebrook stand out from the rest of the res halls.”

Biology senior Kevin Pitel worked with Collins for a year and said he was a great person to work with.

“He’s just one of those people on campus that makes you smile,” he said.

Pitel said Collins was always upbeat and smiling at work.

“If I had the chance to work with him again, I would,” he said.

Outside of his job with UDS, Collins said his interests lie in music, biking and cooperative living.

About a week and a half ago, the Belfry Center for Social and Cultural Activities opened. It’s a collectively run community center that Collins has been working with since August.

The Belfry Center offers an art gallery, a free school where community members can offer and take classes and an independent media outlet, he said.

“It’s nice to be done with all the really hard physical labor,” he said, “but it’s nice to see something turn into a concrete space, where people can actually experience these kinds of things.”

Collins said he would like to offer classes in the spring to teach the residents basic cooking.

“It’s not fair to send the kids out into the world and not have them know how to prepare food that sustains them and keeps them healthy.”