Rafael Velazquez, known for his contagious good cheer and tasty omelets, wins 2018 Amy J. Blue Award

Rafael Velazquez, a food service worker in Branner Dining, will receive a 2018 Amy J. Blue Award at a campus ceremony on May 15. The award honors staff members who are exceptionally dedicated, supportive of colleagues and passionate about their work.

Every weekday morning, Rafael Velazquez stands at the omelet station in Branner Dining Hall ready to greet his fans. Among them are student athletes who come to the residence hall on the east side of campus for hearty breakfasts during their sports seasons.

Dressed in his white chef’s jacket and black Cardinal cap, Velazquez juggles five skillets over five burners and, with the help of assistant Victor Quiroz, who stands at the stove behind him, creates one delicious, made-to-order omelet or scramble after another.

Velazquez also performs amazing feats of memory, say the students who nominated him for a 2018 Amy J. Blue Award, which honors staff members who are exceptionally dedicated, supportive of colleagues and passionate about their work.

“Rafael has memorized EVERY SINGLE ATHLETE’S egg order – EVERY SINGLE ONE,” one student wrote in a nomination letter.

Rafael Velazquez

Rafael Velazquez (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

The students who nominated Velazquez for the award said he makes them feel important, loved and cared for – as if they were his own children.

“I see Rafael every morning and no matter how busy he seems cooking omelets and scrambles, he never fails to say, ‘good morning,’ or to give me a simple smile as I walk by,” one student wrote. “These small gestures of friendliness, kindness and care every morning have had a great impact on my past two years here at Stanford. Witnessing Rafael’s positive outlook every morning inspires me to be a kinder and more giving human being.”

Velazquez, a food service worker in Stanford Dining, a division of Residential & Dining Enterprises, is one of three Stanford employees who have been named 2018 Amy J. Blue Award winners. The award honors employees who are exceptionally dedicated, supportive of colleagues and passionate about their work.

The other winners are Christina Ablaza, program manager of the Creative Writing Program, and Sheila Dolezal, director of finance and administration in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology of Stanford Medicine.

Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne will present the awards at a May 15 ceremony for the winners and their families, friends and colleagues. The event will be held from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in Lagunita Courtyard, located on Santa Teresa Street across from Roble Field. Refreshments will be served. The award, which was established in 1991 to honor the life and work of Amy J. Blue, an associate vice president for administrative services and facilities, includes a $4,000 prize.

More than 20 years on the Farm

Velazquez, who was born in La Piedad, a town located on the northern tip of Michoacán, Mexico, arrived in California in 1985. For two years, he worked in the Central Valley picking grapes, almonds and walnuts. Later, he moved to Redwood City, where he worked in several restaurants, including Denny’s, where he made his first omelets.

In 1999, Velazquez said Nick Peters, CEO and executive chef of Student Organized Services, gave him the opportunity to demonstrate his cooking abilities, which led to a position cooking lunch and dinner for the residents of Tri Delta, a sorority house located on The Row.

Velazquez, who joined Branner Dining in 2006, works weekdays from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. It’s a schedule that works well for Velazquez and his wife, Martina, a cook’s helper in Sigma Nu Fraternity who takes their two children to school before work.

When his workday ends, Velazquez picks up the kids: seventh-grader Uriel and Michelle, a high school senior who will attend Whittier College in the fall.

Velazquez, who didn’t speak English when he arrived in the United States, taught himself the language during his restaurant days by reading newspapers and magazines, watching TV and reading the dialogue box on closed-caption movies. Since then, he has studied English through Stepping Stones to Success, a workplace education program created by R&DE, and through the Habla Tutoring Program, which connects students with Spanish-speaking Stanford workers to help them learn English, practice for a citizenship test or study for a GED.

“There is always something new to learn,” Velazquez said. “It’s the same in the kitchen,” he added, saying that his mentor, Ambrosio Ramirez, the lead cook in Branner Dining and Gerhard Casper Dining, has taught him how to make many different dishes.

Velazquez said he also learns new dishes during the summer, when he works for Chef Raul Lacara in the Schwab Residential Center, which caters to visitors conducting university-sponsored business with the Graduate School of Business.

Velazquez said he wouldn’t be successful in his job without the help and support of coworkers, including Victor Quiroz, Aida Navarro, Jaime Villegas and Milca Sara-Lafosse.

“It’s not possible to do it by myself,” he said.

Breakfast – just another meal without Rafael

Students who nominated Velazquez for the Amy J. Blue Award said his good cheer and kindness are contagious and his made-to-order omelets and scrambles are delicious. They were worried when Velazquez took a medical leave last summer and were heartened when he returned to Branner in the fall.

“I didn’t realize how positive and infectious Rafael was until he was absent,” one student wrote. “It’s amazing how he greets me with a smile, no matter what, and looks so happy to see everyone. When Rafael was gone, my breakfast was no longer a place to get a positive jumpstart to my day. It was just another meal.”

Students say Velazquez treats them like a member of his family.

“Yes, he’s our favorite egg guy, but we can genuinely say that he is also our friend,” one student wrote. “He has the ability to connect with everyone he interacts with and is 100 percent invested in us and our sports. Hands down, he is one of our biggest fans. Every morning I see him having conversation after conversation with different people about how school is going and about how their athletics season is going. He is such a warm and genuine soul who truly cares about everyone he works with and everyone he serves.”

Velazquez also received commendations from his supervisors, including Branner’s Executive Chef Joseph Guinto, who described him as a highly skilled employee who trains new staff on food prep, as well as customer service.

“His peers respect him a lot,” Guinto said. “He has a unique vibe – very engaging.”

Thien Hoang, general manager of Branner Dining, agreed.

“Rafael’s commitment to his work makes him a great employee all around,” he said. “Everyone is very happy Rafael has won this award.”