PITTSFIELD -- The healthy touch could be marinating a chicken with olive oil and spices instead of a store-bought marinade.

Or adding some flavor to the vegetable soup broth by boiling the vegetable peelings.

Kate Hickey's clientele, the faculty, staff, and student body at Berkshire Community College, might not notice that more of the food is being cooked from scratch -- eliminating the unnecessary sodium and preservatives -- but that's fine with her.

Healthier eating doesn't need to be distinctive, she said. It just needs to be tasty and enjoyable.

"It's not always going to be everyone's goal," said Hickey, a recent BCC cafeteria hire and former chief de partie at the luxury health resort Canyon Ranch in Lenox.

Hickey, 34, was hired this summer, beating out about 45 other applicants to become the assistant director of food services, cafeteria director Kevin Kennedy said. Hickey's emphasis on healthier cooking distinguished her from other qualified candidates.

"When I listened to Katie, I knew there was an emphasis on healthy cooking and healthy living where she worked previously," said Kennedy, who said that incorporating more environmentally friendly techniques and healthy cooking are prerogatives for the cafeteria.

In the early 2000s, Hickey took on a position as executive chief at a high-end restaurant in Denver immediately after graduating from culinary school. Then she returned, homesick, to the Berkshires holding multiple positions at Canyon Ranch.

Hickey said that each meal that was prepared at Canyon Ranch would include calorie counts, which was informative for eaters but also for the cooks.

Over time, she was able to find out what she could add -- and take out -- to make a menu item healthier by reviewing the calorie count.

After two stops at high-end food stops with ample budget room, she's submitted her application ready for a new challenge -- Berkshire Community College.

"I don't feel the 1 percent should be healthier than everyone else," Hickey said.

With a strict food budget, there's limitations on what Hickey can do, but that allows her to get creative.

"It's a much bigger challenge to do it here with what they can afford," Hickey said.

Hickey isn't fond of using cheap techniques to add flavor, she said.

"I think fat, sugar and salt are cop outs for cooks," saying a recipe shouldn't depend on "three pounds of sugar and seven pounds of salt."

Comfort food -- pizza, chicken tenders, and other fried delicacies -- are still hallmarks of the cafeteria. However, Hickey said that she considers it an accomplishment if she can get the students to take a break from the junk food and eat a healthier item.

There are also other subtle changes to the cafeteria menu.

Instead of butter and salt the vegetables are flavored with olive oil, which is healthier.

She's an advocate for higher quality oil in the cooking and "volumizing," which includes using enough of an ingredient to provide flavor, but including no more.

Hickey said that she doesn't have an agenda. However, she said that if she can make changes without people noticing -- or labeling items gluten-free food, so people can take advantage -- then that's an accomplishment.

Kennedy said that there is a noticeable amount of olive oil and other ingredients in purchase orders.

Melissa Phillips, catering assistant and a vegetarian, said that she appreciates the change in menu items.

The stir fry is more crisp because it's not deeply saturated, Phillips said, and she enjoys how the vegetables are seasoned.

Even if there are no compliments, Hickey is satisfied as long as people are eating the food.

To reach John Sakata:
jsakata@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6240.