CJ taught me how to make a vinaigrette when I was too scared to ask the Log Lunch managers during my first semester as a Log Lunch cook. We sat down to gossip about dining staff and talk about bees and Dungeons & Dragons.
CM: How was your break?
It was good. Brit [Lillie] and I worked the first week and went to Boston the second week to go to this big nerd convention called PAX. My buddy from Philadelphia comes up –
CM: Oh! I go to PAX every year – PAX Prime! I got so into collecting those pins…
I have a bunch of pins! This past year, I bought two for Dungeons and Dragons (D&D).
CM: I should have brought mine to school – we could have traded! Do you play D&D?
Yeah! Actually, the manager at Lee’s, [along with] Jerry [Byers], [Jim] Butler and Jordan [Phillips], who are cooks at night in Whitmans’, myself and our friend Chris – we all go together to play D&D at Chris’s house.
CM: How often do you play?
Once a week, or every other week, depending on how our schedules work.
CM: Oh, that’s so fun! What’s the social situation like among Dining staff?
We kind of have to work with each other through the day, so you don’t really have a choice of who your friends are. Typically I hang out with Jerry Byers, Jordan Phillips, Jim Butler and obviously Brit, because she’s my fiancee, and she works here.
CM: So everyone kind of hangs out with each other? There are no cliques?
Well, there is to some degree. I mean, when you work in professional kitchens you have the morning crew and the night crew. The morning crew and the night crew are always bashing. You know, you complain about the other one – “Oh, the morning crew didn’t clean this, the night crew just thinks they’re better than everyone else…”
CM: So your social circles form around those groups?
To some degree, yes. I mean, when I first started here, I was on nights. My schedule has gotten moved around since then, but I still socialize with the night crew more than the morning crew. A lot of the time, the morning crew is a lot of older people – not that I don’t have older friends or anything – but they’re just, I don’t know, when they go home they just sort of want to go home and watch Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!, and that’s that. The people I hang out with are more my age.
CM: Would you want to work in a different country?
I’m not against it. My family’s from the Caribbean – it doesn’t look like it. My dad’s grandfather came up here in the 1930s, 40s. He got sick on a boat – he was doing whaling – so they dropped him off in Long Island, and he never went back. So I’d love to go back and work in the Caribbean, but Brit’s a ginger and she burns like you wouldn’t believe, so… But I just like the beach lifestyle. Something about fishing every day, living the simple life, that’s the life for me.
CM: You’ve told me before that you’re deaf in one ear. How did you lose your hearing?
I was told as a kid, as we all are, “Don’t listen to loud music, make sure you wear ear protection when you’re mowing the lawn,” stuff like that… I never did. Well, I’ve had subwoofers in my car since I was 15, so I’ve had more than 10 years of loud music every day. And I don’t listen to it quietly, like, I make sure people hear me before they see me.
CM: What kind of music do you listen to?
I listen to real trap music.
CM: [Laughs.] What do you mean by that?
Like, explicit rap music. My favorite artists are probably Ludacris, Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane and 2 Chainz. I love Gucci [Mane]. I listen to country music too. Just depends on my mood, you know. My playlists range from, like, George Strait to heavy death metal to rap music… It’s all over the place.
CM: I read this quote recently – it’s by Vandana Shiva: “Eating is an ecological act. Eating is a political act. Eating is an ethical act.” Any thoughts about that quote?
I think people should be more conscious of what we eat and how we get it. I’m a big supporter of bees. I love bees. I raise them myself.
CM: You have bees? Do you keep them at home?
I used to. Since my grandfather passed away, I haven’t had time to do it, and our hive got messed up with bears. But I’m trying to get back into it. 75 percent of the food we eat is pollinated by bees. And if you don’t have bees, you don’t have food, unless you hand pollinate. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t think you’re going to want to climb 75 feet to pollinate a tree.
CM: What advice do you have for students who want to learn to cook?
Work in a kitchen in the summertime – work in a different kitchen each year. You learn from everybody. You could learn the newest culinary breakthrough from the dishwasher who speaks no English. You could ask five chefs to teach you how to cut an onion, and they’re all going to teach you a different way. That’s the great thing about cooking: You constantly learn. You can never know enough about cooking.
CM: How was your cooking class this Winter Study?
I had a student, his name was Hector [Fajardo]. No matter where he stood, I’d accidentally get food on him. He stood next to me one day, and I was making whipped icing because we were doing a cake, and he just got icing on him. I think my blender hit him. So he moves across the kitchen. And then we’re doing something later, on pasta or mashed potatoes, and a piece flew and hit him over there! And I’m like, “I’m sorry, Hector. I think you’re just meant to be covered in food.”
CM: What do you love best about your job?
I know Teresa [McLain], Irene [Nesbitt], myself and many others take a lot of interest in students’ lives. Everything we do revolves around food. What do you do when you’re happy? You eat. When you’re sad? You eat. When you’re stressed from midterms, you guys eat a lot. When you celebrate, you eat. Everything you do revolves around food. It reminds you of home.
I see you all more than your professors ever will. I’ll see you three times a day five days, maybe seven days a week, if you choose to eat at the dining hall. So I will see you all grow up and develop more than your professors will. I try to make you feel as close to home as you can. Because everyone misses home.
When you cook, you don’t make money. You don’t get into cooking to make six figures because it’s not going to happen. The most rewarding thing about it is, when you make a dish, you put all your heart and soul and love into this food, and you see someone eat it and they give you the Owen Wilson “wow” face. And you can’t replicate that smile.
CM: I remember one time you ordered a pizza downstairs and you gave me a slice, and it was the best pizza I’d ever eaten. What were the toppings?
Oh boy. It might have been chicken, pesto, roasted tomatoes, roasted garlic, caramelized onions, maybe arugula? That sounds about right. I love pesto.