Yuhan He

Mr. Jackson

By Yuhan He

Writing 105: Introduction to Critical Reading and Writing

In the Pit, during the peak dining time in the morning and afternoon, people can hardly find a table to sit, and several food stations usually get long lines in front of them. One of the longest lines is in front of Wallace Jackson’s omelet station. The name tag of Wallace Jackson shows that he joined Wake Forest’s dining service in 2010, six years ago. He used to work in every food station in the Pit except the yogurt bar. Jackson moved from the Mongolia Grill, to the pizza station, to the pasta station, to the hamburger station, to the deli station, and now he is at the omelet station.

Students are crazy about his omelets, specifically, “his” omelets. Every morning the Pit offers two omelet stations, but many students choose to wait in front of his station rather than going to another one. When he talks about the line in front of his station, he is so proud, saying, “People enjoy my omelets. I love to see people come back and say ‘I want you to make my omelet.’”

Through the glass curtain in front of the station, students can see clearly each subtle step he takes in making an omelet. Mr. Jackson usually greets people with a big smile, “Good morning, sir. What kind of omelet do you want? Do you want any cheese?” Then he puts the vegetables on one side of the grill with water, to let them become soft. “I don’t want to use oil, because it’s so greasy. You already have egg so you don’t want anything more greasy.” Then he pours the egg liquid on the other side of the grill and puts cheese on it. “I want the cheese to be completely melted within the egg,” he says. While waiting for the egg to form a pancake shape, he chops the vegetables with his chef’s knives on the other side of the grill. While the vegetables cook, he chops them for one minute to make sure that they are soft and completely cooked; at the same time, the eggs and cheese have melted together. Then he puts the vegetables on the egg pancake and folds it. Instead of offering the omelet to students immediately, he leaves the omelet one more minute on the grill. The extra one minute is important to him, because he thinks “when you fold the egg, it only finishes cooking the egg. Steam, meat, vegetables and cheese are going to cook inside the egg for another minute.”

Students prefer his omelets because the egg and cheese are completely melted. The secret of his delicious omelets hides in his pace of making omelets. He never rushes to cook five or six omelets together, because “One or two will burn, and the other just doesn’t taste right.” Mr. Jackson focuses on quality rather than quantity, so he prefers to cook only two omelets at the same time. He wants people to enjoy his food: “Cooking the wrong omelet disturbs me, so I cook two at a time, and both of them with love.” He insists on the right way of cooking, and is not influenced by other methods. “This is not Wallace’s way of making omelets. Making five omelets at the same time is probably more efficient, but the egg doesn’t taste right. I want to cook everybody’s omelet individually. I try to cook omelets with love, and want people to enjoy them.” “Individual,” “love” and “enjoy” are three common words used throughout the interview.

For Mr. Jackson, these words translate from his love of cooking to the connection he makes with students. He pays attention to the subtle details of individual students. For example, only he could remember which omelet belongs to which person. Sometimes students think he has exceptional memory skills, but he laughs and says he just wants to have a connection with each student who enjoys his omelets. “You need to have connections. You need to have connections with the people you serve. So every time they come to my food station, I’d say ‘This person there, has two eggs and bacon and cheese,’” Mr. Jackson says with exhilaration.

Super devoted to his work, Mr. Jackson wants every customer to enjoy his food; he hopes every food server will love his or her work, and he wishes that everyone in food service will enjoy the process of making food. “I think it’s important for our food servers to share and enjoy what they do when they’re cooking food. If you enjoy what you are doing, you’ll last for a long time in the food services.” In Mr. Jackson’s ideology, the relationship between cooks and customers is mutually dependent. Cooks prepare food precisely with love, and customers enjoy the food. Then customers repay cooks with recognition and praise.

Mr. Jackson used to work in the military food service, restaurants, retirement homes, and barbecues before he began working at Wake Forest. He used to be like ordinary cooks, just giving people some food and letting them go. But when he came to Wake Forest and cooked directly for students, he felt empathy because students reminded him of his boys. “When I cook for students, I think, ‘What do my kids get in school?’ These kids spend a lot of money on the university’s food, so I have come to realize that I’m going to give them the royal treatment.”

At Wake Forest, each student recognizes that Mr. Jackson makes different, delicious omelets, and they praise him by coming to his omelet station every day. He considers the returning customers as praise for his good cooking, especially when students tell him: “Hey, you know, I only want you to make my omelet.” The recognition means a great deal to Mr. Jackson, because it tells him how much his cooking means to students. “Several people come to me every day, just to see me cook their omelets, because I do it all right, and that makes me happy. That’s how I get recognized, cooking food individually for each person,” Mr. Jackson says.

Making omelets takes care; so does working with students. Such caring requires optimism. Each day, regardless of his mood, he prepares himself as an optimistic cook when he comes to work, to try to offer people food with “love” and attention. This cheerfulness forms the core of his philosophy of cooking and even of his life. Mr. Jackson thinks that the cook’s attitudes towards cooking can influence the taste of food, as no customers would like to taste the food prepared by a grumpy, grouchy or mad cook, because “they’re already mad, so they don’t care about your food.” In order to prepare food with love, he likes to joke with kids and would love to chat with students, so he can laugh, saying “Happiness keeps me motivated.”

A Word from Yuhan

Picture of Yuhan HeThis assignment opened my mind to another field that I used to ignore in the campus— campus workers. Before this assignment, I never appreciated the intelligence of food service’s work. Since I could cook myself, I thought that making omelet was as easy as just cooking one egg pancake, including some vegetables inside it. However, after my interview with Mr. Jackson, I learned a lot about making a delicious omelet. Delicious food not only depended on the skill of the cook, but also the attention, love the cook paid to the food, and the cook’s attitude when he or she was cooking. Because the purpose of writing one article was to make the reader form empathy with the character in the article, using third person tense would be easier for the reader to do that.
This was the skill I have never learned before. After I corrected all the tense, I started to realize the purpose of this assignment: illustrating the omelet maker’s work to the reader. Therefore, the reader could see another world of work in Wake Forest except academic work, through the perspective of my assignment. So my assignment must stand in a neutral perspective to increase the article’s persuasiveness, and focus only on the work of making an omelet. In the interview, the omelet maker talked about his family’s tie to the military, which I thought was very interesting.
But after discussion with my professor, I deleted it from my assignment. Since he only offered me limited information about why all of his sons went to the military, I couldn’t expand it to an elaborated argument, and this military connection was a little off-topic.

From Professor Phoebe Zerwick


“Working at Wake Forest” Profile

Students often refer to Wake Forest by the nickname “Work Forest.” That nickname is meant as a complaint and a statement of pride about the academic work required of students. What about the other work that takes place on campus? The work of cooks and maintenance workers, lab assistants and tutors, work that often goes unnoticed. In this assignment, you will explore the complexity of work at “Work Forest” by interviewing someone who works on campus and writing an essay about that job.

This assignment is designed to give you practice with close reading and using evidence to support an idea. In this case, your evidence will be drawn from the interview you conduct with someone who works at Wake Forest. The transcription of the interview will be the “text” you use to write a profile about that person and the job. The assignment is also designed to help you think about building a larger argument. You will use the transcript for a later writing assignment and again, at the end of the semester, when we will produce a class blog titled “Work Forest” using the interviews each of you conduct.

If this all sounds too complicated, don’t worry. I have broken the assignment down into straightforward parts.

1. Pick a job you want to profile, contact that person now and
arrange an interview, in person.
2. Write a list of interview questions to review in class.
3. Record the interview and take a picture of your subject or of
something that signifies the job. Be sure to back up the interview
and the picture to your computer. Post the image to the class
Tumblr blog.
4. Transcribe your interview on the sheet provided. You will
practice close reading in class using the transcript as your text.
5. Write a 2-3 page profile about your subject and the work he or
she does using the transcript as your source of evidence.

Professor Commentary

I admire Yuhan’s work here for a number of reasons related to critical reading and writing. The assignment was designed to give students practice with close reading skills such as observation, curiosity, and engagement, and with such writing skills as integrating texts and using concrete language. I’ll begin with brainstorming, which comes before and informs both the reading and writing. The essay shows how deeply Yuhan thought about the assignment, by what it means to work on a campus nicknamed “Work Forest.” By paying attention to a Pit worker, Yuhan found a job that often goes unnoticed, demonstrating the kind of intellectual curiosity the assignment was designed to foster. The assignment also required students to create a primary text by conducting an interview and transcribing it. The transcript Yuhan produced shows her curiosity, listening ability, and attention to detail, all “reading” skills required for academic writing. She also demonstrated observational skills, noting Wallace Jackson’s cooking method, the reaction from students, and the scene in the Pit. In other words, she was able to “read” her subject closely.

Yuhan’s essay also demonstrated key writing goals for the assignment. Students often struggle with knowing when to paraphrase and when to use a quotation. Yuhan found that balance, choosing quotations from her interview that revealed Wallace Jackson’s voice. Consider how the following quotation advances the writing by surprising the reader with the depth of his commitment to cooking. “Cooking the wrong omelet disturbs me, so I cook two at a time, and both of them with love,”she quotes Jackson saying. I also admired Yuhan’s attention to detail, especially when she writes with precision about the method Jackson uses to make an omelet with love. Above all, this essay demonstrates Yuhan’s commitment to the writer’s craft and an open mind and heart, both qualities I deeply admire.

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