Maurice the Man: The trials and triumphs of being Pistachio’s lead cook
Maurice Reeves juggles four separate pans of pasta on a stove as a line of 50 college students stretches out behind his counter at Pistachio’s.
He has marinara in one pan, alfredo in the next, marinara and alfredo in another and the last has marinara with a splash of vodka, a last-minute request from an indecisive customer.
This would be a pretty stressful atmosphere for most, but even more so for Reeves, who said he gets “overwhelmed” easily because of his hypertension.
But he’s used to it.
Reeves, the lead cook at Pistachio’s, has made pasta for UB students for roughly three and a half years. His performative style of cooking is famous on UB’s campus, and Pistachio’s is one of the most popular eating spots, with waiting times regularly reaching over 30 minutes.
“What can I do for you, dear?” Reeves asks with his trademark smile and friendly voice, as another customer moves to the front of the line.
He then adds a fifth pan to the stove.
Watching Reeves is like watching a well-oiled machine — the practiced footwork, the dramatic brandishing of yet another pan, the careful garnishing of each plate of pasta and the swift breaking of the breadstick.
When Reeves first started working at UB, he faced some “rough patches” as he wasn’t entirely familiar with all the recipes and would get flustered every time someone came by with a “build-your-own” pasta order.
“It was a little challenging because people would ask for things that I didn't know or a build-your-own and then maybe halfway through, they’d ask for something new or something I didn’t know,” Reeves said. “I was just like, ‘Oh boy.’”
But now, Reeves is a seasoned Pistachio’s pasta chef with a long list of regulars.
Coming off a nine-hour shift, Reeves is standing in the kitchen of Pistachio’s trying to get the names of all his regulars. “I have two Miss Emmas, Emily, Jeff, Jeremy …” Reeves starts off and doesn’t stop. He doesn’t want to miss anybody in case they get upset about it.
Reeves regularly refers to his customers as “children,” but immediately corrects himself to say “young adults.” It’s clear he cares about them as children, and he said he makes it a point to remember their names and ask about their grades.
“We got us a little family bond going,” Reeves said.
The family bond must certainly be strong, as Reeves’ “regulars” brave the long wait times on a regular basis to eat his food.
And they won’t let anyone else make their pasta.
“I’ll try to scoot forward because he knows [my order] so well,” said Erik Dahlgren, a junior media studies and graphic design major and one of Reeves’ regulars.
“I mean his energy is always there. … And you know he’s always got a smile on his face. You can see it too, he’s got sweat on his forehead, he’s going ham in there,” Dahlgren said.
In fact, Reeves said students often specifically request him to make their food, even though they have been assigned another chef.
“[Reeves] makes pasta better than the others. The one that looks like Drake is fast but [Reeves] has that quality,” said Christopher Luther, a junior civil engineering major.
But Reeves doesn’t think that makes him a “better” cook than his peers. He just thinks students go to the chef they’re more familiar with.
“When I first got here, they did the same thing. Instead of going to me, they went to the chef that they're familiar with,” Reeves said.
After working his shift, Reeves will go home to make dinner for his family.
But he’ll have help.
His youngest son who is 12 years old “sleeps with a cookbook under his bed” and is always there to help his dad with dinners and breakfast.
“Sometimes I don’t even have to do anything,” Reeves said. “He knows how to do everything.”
Reeves turns the attention away from himself entirely when he’s asked about his fast-paced job. He sees his effort only as a part of the collective.
“[The customers] are the new generation — doctors, lawyers, presidents of companies. I gotta keep the world running, I’m doing my part, I’m happy to be doing it,” Reeves said.
He also makes sure to credit the entire Pistachio’s operation.
“It’s a team effort. Without everyone in the back of the house, front of the house, in the office, placing orders, getting everything together — we wouldn’t be able to perform,” Reeves said.
He also said he makes sure to ask his coworkers if they’ve had breakfast before starting a shift.
“Always have to eat correctly, know what I mean? Treat yourself, don’t beat yourself. I try to tell everybody else too,” Reeves said.
His co-worker Vernal Overton, who started working with Reeves in November, said he was “a hardworking guy who knows what he’s doing. Pretty much all the way around balanced.”
Reeves said working at Pistachio’s and serving UB students is a “give-and-take” relationship.
“They help me with my patience, with my sincerity, they help me with my kindness on a daily basis,” Reeves said. “They continue to outperform themselves. They come in, they’re patient, they’re nice, they’re considerate.”
Tanveen Vohra is a co-senior news editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @TanveenUBSpec