Meet Antoinette "Toni" Watkins, MS, RDN, Director System Nutrition at Riverside Health System. Toni received the 2021 Gold & Silver Plate Award in the Health Care category, and was nominated by Basic American Foods.
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The International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA) Presents the 67th Annual Gold Plate Award to Antoinette “Toni” Watkins, MS, RDN, System Director of Food & Nutrition Services at Riverside Health System
CHICAGO, SEPTEMBER 14, 2021— Antoinette “Toni” Watkins, MS, RDN, System Director of Food & Nutrition Services at Riverside Health System, was named the 2021 Gold Plate Award recipient by the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA) during the 67th Annual Gold & Silver Plate Awards Celebration. Watkins, representing the Health Care category, was nominated by Basic American Foods and was selected from an impressive slate of this year’s Silver Plate winners.
“I am honored and I am blessed with the opportunities that have been in front of me,” said Watkins. “I’ve been really fortunate to work for an organization to help take the lead in helping to make a difference in the community in which we serve. This award truly means a lot. It’s a lifetime achievement, but it’s not the end.”
Interested in a career as a dietitian since she was a young child, Watkins attended University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, where she received her B.S. degree—and Boston University, where she achieved her M.S. She joined Riverside Health System in 2015, assuming control of multiple sites throughout eastern Virginia. Through benchmarking, productivity initiatives, technology, and creative strategies, she has made substantial improvements and saved the system over $1 million through enhancements.
With a foodservice career spanning 30 years, she remains highly active in the field and has been a member of the Food Management Practice Group, the Association of Healthcare Food Service (AHF), and was the 2020 Chairperson for the AHF Reward and Recognition Committee. She is a Diversity Liaison with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and received a Diversity and Inclusion Certification from Cornell University.
Interview: What Drives the Nation's Top Foodservice Operators?
We asked the 2021 Silver Plate Class to share some perspectives and words of wisdom with the industry. Find out what they have to say about their passion for foodservice, career accomplishments and what it means to be part of a legendary group of operators.
How did you get your start in the foodservice industry?
I began cooking early in life with my mother and grandmother. I enjoyed learning all I could about food. After my mother met with a dietitian and introduced me to what they did, I was fascinated by the profession, researching all I could about dietitians. The result was that at the age of 12, I knew that I wanted to become a dietitian.
What do you enjoy most about your career in foodservice?
Food is a personal experience for many of us. I love the ability to make a difference in someone’s life from a healing perspective through food they enjoy consuming.
I’ve also learned not to take myself too seriously in this field. One person may like something that another does not--it’s all about preference. That keeps things interesting!
Tell us about your biggest career accomplishment.
My biggest career accomplishment has been to help food and nutrition services teams navigate in the midst of two unforeseen catastrophic events within different healthcare organizations: the Ebola outbreak at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas and the current pandemic with Riverside Health System (Food and Nutrition Services). In the Ebola situation, we were the only hospital in America with the problem. A man came into the ER with symptoms that weren’t recognized. By the time he was diagnosed, hospital staff had been exposed to it. Employees were afraid to serve food to patients, we had to figure out our own PPE procedures, and people shunned the staff, fearing contamination. I needed to be calm in the midst of chaos to help the team be comfortable and feel safe. That prepared me for COVID. We were mitigating exposure then in one facility—now it’s a similar situation, but on a much larger scale. As before, we still need to make sure we feed people while keeping ourselves and those we care for safe.
How have you kept yourself and your team motivated this past year?
My team has experienced lots of challenges, but we decided early on that we needed to communicate often to stay connected. At one point, we had daily and weekly “huddle” Zoom calls. (We now have calls bimonthly or as needed, and monthly planning meetings.) Another thing we did was to have chefs perform product demos, although we couldn’t taste what they made. If the team expressed interest, the company would shift product to facilities to test.
What advice do you have for someone new to the foodservice industry?
- Make sure that it’s your passion. When you love what you do, it doesn’t seem like a job.
- Obtain your education and remember that learning is lifelong.
- Be willing to invest in the development of your team. You might find out that it actually develops you too.
What does being an IFMA Silver Plate recipient mean to you?
This award has a special meaning for me, especially as a person of color. My parents and grandparents sacrificed so much for me to move forward. I frequently heard stories about trials they endured. They encouraged me to get an education and work hard. I often heard how it was possible for me to make a difference. I wasn’t so sure about that I when I heard it. I believe them now!
This is truly a pinnacle of my career. It’s interesting because working in the food industry has simply been a passion for me--I never did it in order to win an award. So receiving the Silver Plate award is simply icing on the cake! What a joy!
What is your favorite meal?
I love corned beef and cabbage—I get hungry just thinking about it!
Watch IFMA's live conversation with Toni Watkins, MS, RDN, Director System Nutrition at Riverside Health System. Hear Toni's story and learn what drives one of the nation’s top foodservice operators.
This live conversation is brought to you with the support of Tork, an Essity Brand.