Cuisine creates community

Blake Dahlin

Families and communities are built, maintained and bonded across the dinner table. That is the personal philosophy and guiding principle of Allen Stover, a chef at Seattle Pacific University’s Gwinn Commons.

You may have seen Stover at Gwinn before. He usually crafts made-to-order omelets at breakfast, serving the student population — however groggy they may be — with a smile. Stover, speaking with an exuberant tone and a smile on his face, spoke of his experience as the chef at the omelette station in the morning.

Even when Stover sees dozens of students each morning making what is essentially the same dish over and over again, he feels connected to his work and the student body.

“Every plate is special. It’s your plate, but it’s different from everybody else’s. It might be the same thing, but I made it for you,” Stover mused, when he was asked about his favorite part of working in Gwinn.

The passion for culinary arts and community that guides Stover in his work began when he was a kid.

“Growing up, food was always associated with family. And I see that here, with every class that comes through,” said Stover.

That is what guided him into culinary arts, and it is what has kept him at SPU. During the interview, Stover spoke of his time working at Pepperdine University. For him, the best part of that job was watching the sunset over the Pacific Ocean every day.

Allen makes omelets for the students each morning. Blake Dahlin | The Falcon

Here at SPU, however, Stover feels like he is a part of the community, and that he is helping build a stronger community through the meals that he fashions.

“I have always felt very appreciated here, and that is very different than a lot of other chef jobs I’ve had,” said Stover.

Before his time at SPU, he held jobs in the private sector, where he felt like something was missing. Those jobs lacked a sense of community. When he started at SPU, things were different.

“The first day I worked, [the students] were gracious and grateful and generous,” said Stover, “and it was great”

Cooking a meal and having positive interactions with students is a big part of what makes being a chef so appealing to Stover, but what happens after he hands a plate to someone that makes everything meaningful.

“Food is very intimate,” Stover said, the change in pitch in his voice betraying the passion that he has for cooking. “It’s a family thing, its personal. Even in a place like this where we work in heavy volume, it’s personal.”

This July will be his sixth year at SPU, and he is not planning on going anywhere anytime soon.

On May 23, Stover had his spotlight dinner in Gwinn. He spoke of the experience of the recipe that he designed and served to students.

“That sauce I made yesterday, it takes a while. It’s a lot of just sitting over it for a couple of hours and you slow cook it,” Stover said. “It is very methodical, you have to make sure every part of it is good.

There is always that moment when you have fear, like ‘Oh God is this going to taste terrible? Is it going to be good?’ And then you taste it, and it’s good. That’s the part that I love.”