One of Emory’s most well-known personalities, “Pasta John,” recently received the opportunity to exercise his culinary skills beyond the realms of the DUC. His new food joint in Cox Hall is now open for hungry and curious customers. The Emory Wheel had the chance to sit and talk with the friendly cook and mentor.
Everybody knows you as Pasta John. What is your real name?
My real name is John Wilson.
When did the idea of opening your own personal food place spring up? What prompted this idea?
The opportunity came up this summer. My boss gave me a phone call and asked me what I thought about opening my own place. It was the students’ idea, they suggested it to my boss.
They told him they wanted a pasta bar and my boss thought “Who’s there better to run this place than Pasta John?” To me, that was a blessing. It all started out as an idea, and we made it come true.
What kinds of culinary delights does your place offer? Any Pasta John’s specialties?
Right now, we are keeping it simple. I am making my own Alfredo, Pesto and Marinara sauces from scratch, and I use locally grown fresh vegetables.
I am preparing everything fresh and I am cooking right there in front of you.
Right now, we are not serving any specialties, but I am working on that. We will probably serve specialties of the week soon, probably starting the following month.
How has the the place been received? What feedback have you received?
The line [on the first day] was so so long. Students and nurses from the hospital came to support me because I befriended many of them. I also befriended faculty workers and the staff, it was my own way of marketing the new place. The opening day was off the chains, the lines would reach the cash registers. I received a lot of positive feedback. I remember one of the girls came up to me and told me that she needed seconds, that she wanted another entree, the first one was so good.
Which is your favorite pasta dish?
My favorite is the Alfredo sauce dish. I am making the sauce from scratch. It’s my specialty and I’m making it right there, in front of you, adding the seasoning and all the little details. On the same note, my favorite cheese would be fresh Parmesan.
What other foods do you like? What other foods can you cook?
You know what, I’ll first tell you how I got my name “Pasta John.” In 1999, there were three or four Johns in the kitchen. At that time, I was working at the pasta station, so the staff called me “Pasta John.” Ever since, the name stuck. But I do all kinds of dishes, I can cook any food, anything that I’m told to cook.
My favorite [culinary activity] is action cooking. I mean exhibition cooking, like throwing food and cooking in motion right in front of the people. I was once asked who taught me all this. I taught myself how to cook, all on my own. Nobody made me do it, I wanted to. I grew up in a very large family, and all of us learned how to cook. I never went to a culinary school, I am better with on-the-job training. I am still learning every day.
Will the student body still have the privilege of seeing you in the DUC?
I will still be on campus, but I will be at Cox Hall from now on. It will take me a bit longer to meet freshmen now, but I will still meet them. I’m very involved in school events, I go to sporting events and all kinds of activities, so I will still get the chance to know them.
Have you always been involved in the culinary business?
I started my first cooking job in school, and I have been cooking ever since. I have always been involved with food services, but at first I didn’t plan on becoming a cook. It all just fell into place, it just happened. Now I wouldn’t choose to do anything else besides cooking.
What activities, besides cooking, do you enjoy?
I enjoy bowling, karaoke, telling jokes and just hanging out, meeting people and turning up a little. [Girl passes by]. Hey hey hey, do you remember me? [Girl, smiling, recognizes and hugs him.]
What is one thing that people do not know about you?
I have two adopted little girls, and I am getting married at the end of the year. Most of the people probably don’t know about this, but I am a recovered addict.
I was hooked on drugs, and about 15 years ago, I had to leave my home in Florida in order to make a change, to start anew, to start my life over and surround myself with new people. I changed my environment, changed my perspective, and I was able to recover.
Do you have a message for the Wheel’s readers?
Always stay positive. Keep God first in your life, and you can’t go wrong. Have faith. If you believe, you will receive. There will be times when you’ll feel down, there will be storms, but then you have to know that better times are coming your way.
– By Loli Lucaciu