When you visit the Mourant Café to have some breakfast or grab some lunch, you are almost always greeted by the smiling face of Patrick Vallejo, the lead cook for UAS asking: “What’s for lunch?”
By: Mallory Millay
Vallejo, who has been a cook at UAS for well over 13 years, definitely enjoys his job. “I love my job. I love being down here cooking. It’s never boring like you would think. I love working and cooking for the students because they are always different. When it does get boring something exciting always happens: the fire alarm goes off; the power goes out. You know I’m waiting for someone to go streaking or something! Nobody has!”
Vallejo does so well at his job and enjoys being in the kitchen so much he recently turned down the job as general manager of campus dining services. “They asked if I wanted it (the job) and I was like ‘I don’t know! I don’t know!’ I really like being down here and cooking. It’s never boring. I’m not at a desk. I can’t work at a desk; that’s why I can’t work up there. I mean, I never learned typing in school. I tried to, but it wasn’t required in high school. “
Originally from Seattle Wash., Vallejo grew up in Oregon. After his sister moved to Alaska and married a man in the Coast Guard, Vallejo came to Juneau and visited them during the summer when he was about 13-years-old.
Later when his brother-in-law went on to open a Chinese food restaurant, Vallejo began helping in the kitchen, which might have got him into cooking. That’s up for debate however because as Vallejo put it, “I was only 13 at the time so I wasn’t really thinking. I was like, ‘I hate this stuff! I don’t want to work. I just want to be rich!’ You never think about being something or working hard when you are 13.”
After high school Vallejo joined the army where he was stationed in Fort Louis, Wash. “I knew I wanted to join the army just to get out of the small town I grew up in. I wasn’t in any wars. I was in the disco wars in the ‘70s. So I stayed in the United States.”
When Vallejo got out of the army, he wasn’t sure which direction to take next. “I got out of the army and then I didn’t know what else to do. I was still a punk.”
Later the he was given the opportunity to go to Alaska to help out a relative who had just suffered a stroke. “I had just gotten out of the army so everyone was like ‘Pat’s not doing anything, he’s just hanging out, send Pat up to Alaska. He can cook and chauffer and everything.’ I didn’t care. As long as they were going to pay me I’d go. So I came up and started helping out. Then I started living here. I started getting real jobs and making more money. You want your own place. Juneau is a nice place.”
And Juneau is where Vallejo decided to stay. Living here with his energetic black lab Keet, Vallejo’s only complaint is about the lousy summers occurring over the last few years. “I can never forget hot days growing up in Oregon and just running down to a creek or a river and not hesitating, just jumping in. The water wasn’t cold and you wanted to be cold anyway. I mean, what do you do in the summer here? Put on your raincoat and it’s foggy like last summer.”
Winters seem to suit Vallejo best here in Juneau. Snowshoeing and cross-country on occasion skiing are his favorite pastimes during the winter.
Vallejo intends on remaining the head cook and making people’s days better with the simple joys of food.
“When people ask me how long I’ve been working here and I tell them, it doesn’t really even seem that long. When the students come back from 10 years ago and bring their kids and their kids bring their kids, it’s crazy. Students come in and say ‘Oh you made my day! You made macaroni and cheese!’ You see that’s not hard. That’s what it takes (to make people feel good) and that’s when I realized I don’t want to be stuck in the office. Life’s too short to be stuck in the office.”