Not-always-glowing assumptions can be made about the kind of food you might find at a business that feeds many clients at every meal, every day. But Bellingham’s Mt. Baker Care Center turns those stereotypes on their head, far exceeding expectations by providing a dining program that goes above and beyond basic needs, and helps provide a healthy and happy atmosphere.

Housed in a single building, the organization is divided into two parts: Mt. Baker Care Center, the long-term skilled nursing care facility, home to as many as 65 residents; on the other side of the building is Summit Place, which provides assisted living to up to 35 guests.

West values the ability to spend some one-on-one time getting to know the people for whom she’s creating meals. Photo credit: Steven Arbuckle

Amanda West joined Summit Place five years ago as a dietary team member, has been mastering different aspects of the program in both kitchens ever since, and was recently promoted to Mt. Baker Care Center’s Director of Dining Services. “I spent about three years in the Summit kitchen, and then spent the last two years learning the main kitchen,” she says. But there’s more to her story than cooking and presenting delicious, nutritious meals.

West is currently enrolled in a course that’s readying her to take a credentialing exam to become a Certified Dietary Manager. This covers creating menus, the basics of nutrition and diets, as well as management courses.

“I’m learning about different types of dietary restrictions—making sure that when a person has a specific dietary need, we can keep to those guidelines,” she says. “It’s a mixture of working as a normal kitchen manager, but also getting the certification to be ready to apply things that are coming to us from doctors and dietitians.”

Catherine Reis-El Bara is happy to see West’s achievements and to see MBCC continue to exceed expectations. Photo credit: Steven Arbuckle

West is proud to carry on the strong tradition of exceeding expectations at both the Mt. Baker Care Center and Summit Place kitchens. “The last dietary manager was a great force in getting the cans out and bringing in fresh foods,” she says. “There are a lot of rules and regulations about accountability and where our food comes from, but whenever we can, we do go down to the farms.”

Varying the menu on a regular basis is another way to keep things fresh. While certain beloved staples always remain, like chicken for dinner or mashed potatoes for any meal, West and her team have plenty of room for experimentation. “Our menu cycle changes every season,” West says. Breakfasts mostly stay the same, because people have their morning favorites, but the kitchen goes through a monthly cycle for lunch and dinner specials. “And then, after three months or so, we change it again, so it’s always rotating.”

In addition to regular offerings, there’s always a series of rotating specials on the dining room’s menu. Photo credit: Steven Arbuckle

They’ve also found ways to reach out to the community, by teaming with Sustainable Connections, a local non-profit that consults with staff about operating in ecologically friendly ways. And at the end of the business day, they get a visit from the local chapter of the Food Recovery Network, a national organization that mobilizes to save perfectly good food from going to waste and distributing it to those in need.

West was born in Southern California and lived there until she was 13. She spent the next few years living on both sides of the border that joins Iowa and Nebraska, and has been in Whatcom County since 2006, in both Lynden and Bellingham.

While she feels she’s adjusted well, there are still parts of our local scene she struggles with. “I like all the waterfalls. I live near Whatcom Falls, so I hike the five miles down there when the weather’s nice and I just go hang out at the falls. The amount of rain still gets me, though. I am a full-on beach and summer girl,” she says with a laugh. “When it gets below 60 degrees, I’m freezing.”

Amanda West has spent five years learning the ropes and plans to continue Mt. Baker Care Center’s culinary excellence. Photo credit: Steven Arbuckle

Care Center Administrator Catherine Reis-El Bara was pleased to bring West on board, and to see the steps she’s taken toward perfecting her craft and attaining her CDM certification. “I think I always knew what potential Amanda had when she came on at Summit, but it’s so nice to be able to see somebody grow, and give them the opportunity to do something different,” she says. “I’m glad that she’s decided to take on this project for us.”

West’s personal philosophy fits her workplace perfectly. “This is where the residents live, so we want to make it pleasant for them. It’s all about remembering that we’re all people—we just need to care about each other, and care about being here every day and putting in our best efforts.”

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