One new face on Northwestern’s campus this semester can be seen just over the grill.
Chef Benjamin Whitmore, or Chef BJ as he’s known to campus, is NW’s new executive chef. Originally from Spencer, Whitmore and his wife moved to Orange City from Ottumwa where he attended culinary school.
While in Ottumwa he also helped open a multipurpose events center called the Bridge View Center where he was the executive chef and food and beverage director. Whitmore taught culinary classes at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa and has worked at a number of different hotels and restaurants throughout his career.
“I have worked in restaurants my entire career, but it was two Sodexo chefs that inspired me to become a chef,” Whitmore said. “I was working at Morningside as a work study student in the cafeteria, and the chefs there encouraged me to look at becoming a chef because they thought I had the talent to do well in the restaurant business.”
Now a member of the NW Community, Whitmore has continued to use his culinary talents to enhance the quality of food in the cafe.
“I am working with the staff to keep things fresh and new, and we are all looking for ways to improve everything weoffer,” Whitmore said. “If every time we put out a dish or create a meal we look at it and say ‘How can I make it better?’ or ‘What can I do to increase the joy the customer feels when eating this item?’ we will continue to improve the quality and quantity of choices at the cafe.”
Changes students may have noticed in the cafe are Fresh Cookie Thursdays, additional fresh fruit offerings at breakfast and new items on the pizza line.
“The pizza this year is really good,” said junior Amanda Hulstein. “I usually don’t like homemade pizza, but the sauce is good. The french fries are also ten times better.”
Other changes made to the cafe were on the soccer team’s behalf.
“The soccer guys caught me on my second day and sat me down in the dining room to discuss what they needed in order to enjoy the meals at the cafe. The one thing they mentioned for breakfast was chocolate chip pancakes,” Whitmore said. “So, in keeping with the theme of ‘improving everything we offer,’ we had pancakes on the menu the next morning. I promised the guys I would let the breakfast cooks know that they had a guest request for chocolate chip pancakes. Long story short, we changed up the menu a little bit and made our customers happy.”
Even with the changes that have already been implemented, Whitmore has many more up his sleeve.
“I am hoping to bring in a couple of guest chefs for a Tapas night that corresponds with our El Torro de Noche restaurant series this month,” Whitmore said, “and I have a couple of other items in the works that should create a bit of excitement throughout the semester. Also, after the success of ‘The Elvis Grill’ we will be looking for additional themed events to hold this semester and into the spring.”