Jan. 18, 2018

A native of nearby Crozet, Tim Saul has handled the kitchen operation at John Paul Jones Arena since it opened. He takes great pride in his profession and serving the needs of UVA’s student-athletes and sports teams.

How did you get into the culinary field?
I think it was mainly being around food with my grandmother and mother growing up. She would take care of me when my mom was working. We had big family meals on the weekend and I really enjoyed watching her prepare them. It became part of what we did as a family and we always got together for every holiday. She wouldn’t make one dessert, she’d make 10 desserts, one dessert for each family member – what they really liked.

Do you remember the first thing you made on your own and how old you were?

No, but I was very young. I probably made eggs or maybe pancakes. I started out slow, I started out simple. Something I knew I couldn’t mess up that bad.

What has been your most unique cooking experience?
We would have day classes (in cooking school) and then go in the field and work at night, wherever you could get a job. I worked at some really cool steakhouses and some really upscale places, but what was really cool, we worked a function for a catering company for the christening of the John C. Stennis Aircraft Carrier. It was about 10,000 people. It was just amazing. We slept on the aircraft carrier for three days and we did nothing but work. Afterwards, we got to explore the ship and that was really interesting. It was a fascinating experience to see nothing but one galley kitchen with like 50 ovens and big pots. Things that I had never seen on such a large scale.

What is a typical day?
There is never a typical day. I usually try to come in around nine depending on what meetings I have scheduled. Sometimes I have to be here at four or five in the morning if there is a function before athletic dining. I am usually here until 8:30 or 9 p.m. and then I do some work at home.

What is the size of the staff that prepares meals?
The staff for athletics is right around 10. That is the home base, if we have larger events we try to add on one or two people.

What is it you like most about the job?
The client interaction. The result of the hard work in the food that we present. It is when people say it’s “really good” and “great job”, “we love it”, and “we’ll be back.” That is what drives me –the immediate reaction. When people cook, and they’re in the kitchen, they never see the end result, that is, when the client or the student eats the food. That is instant gratification. That is rare but we get to experience it here.

We feed the students and we feed the teams. We see them come in as first years and then leave as fourth years. We are pretty much raising them and that’s how a lot of us feel. I have been through so many cycles where I have seen them come in and leave as adults. It’s sad but you know you’ve done your job. We guide them by our offerings into what they should be eating while also providing what they want to eat every now and then.

How big of a role does director of sports nutrition Randy Bird play in the operation?
It’s huge. He or one of his staff members is always here answering questions for students. We have the ability to bounce things off of him. We tell him what we really want to do and get his input. He approves the menus before we release them. We run a four-week cycle and he has already looked at them and said either its good or that we shouldn’t do. It is a really nice thing for me here so that I don’t have to carry the whole weight of it.
How many people do you prepare food for on an average day?
We are usually preparing food for around 375 to 400. We have to look at who is playing and that changes our production amounts. We keep track of the schedules and who is traveling, as well as who is playing at home and at what time. If we have five teams out on a Thursday our counts go down and we fix accordingly.
What would you say is the student-athletes’ favorite meal?
The salmon that we serve. We fix it a certain way and the way we present it is really impressive. You would see it that way at some of the finer places in town. When we do the cookouts on the patio, I get a whole case of cedar planks to cook the salmon on. They love that.
What is your favorite meal to cook?
My favorite is flank steak with the Yukon gold whipped potatoes. Those are really good. We buy everything local that we can get our hands on, that is one of my big things.

How did you get into collecting cast iron skillets?
I have eight skillets, two bean bots, and one Dutch oven. I started collecting those when I was old enough to understand what it was. I had a couple handed down to me and others I have sought out because of their quality and what they represent. I go to antique places or rummage sales and if I see a cast iron skillet that has been around for 100 years or a bean pot that has a unique design, I am pretty much going to buy that.

I got into it because it is one of the items you can do anything with. You can bake with it, you can broil with it, you can fry in it, you can put it in a camp fire and leave it there, there is pretty much nothing you can’t do. Cast iron skillets, I will never be without.

Story by Jim Daves

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