Thomas Bartolotta, better known by his moniker “Pasta Tom,” has left the sauce stove and taken a temporary position at Weshop through his employment with Bon Appétit. Most students know Bartolotta from his classic “Hey!” resounding through the Usdan kitchen to call out inattentive students in the pasta line. When ordering, there is a sequence students must attend to: sauce, protein/vegetables, pasta.
“The shape of the pasta is secondary, tertiary even,” Bartolotta said. “The sauce is the star of the show.”
Bartolotta estimates he’s cooked over 60,000 pounds of pasta over his 11 years working at Pastabilities in Usdan Marketplace. On average, he produced 40 pounds a night and 200 pounds a week for his five day shift. These weights aren’t metaphorical for the cook, who said he doesn’t enjoy eating pasta anymore.
A lifelong Middletown resident, Bartolotta never imagined his love of cooking would end up becoming part of his profession. In fact, after high school, Bartolotta began working in the construction industry.
“I liked getting dirty,” he said of his time working in a brickyard. “I remember the smell of the diesel trucks in the morning.”
Needing money, he took a job at the University in 1999 doing deli prep in the old student center. A few years later, he began cooking at Summerfields. When a job opened up as a chef in Usdan, he entered the land of Pastabilities and pioneered the now renowned toss technique at the University.
“Every sauce I serve is made from scratch,” Bartolotta said.
Some sauces, such as the marinara many students consume on a daily basis, can take up to three hours to cook. However, Bartolotta was ready for a new pace in his work life.
“When I left, I missed pasta for about five minutes,” Bartolotta said. “It was time for a change. But I had a blast as a fill-in [at Pastabilities] last week.”
Unprepared kids with incoherent orders tended to aggravate the cook, although Bartolotta expressed self-awareness about some of the tougher shifts he worked.
“Some nights I was a prick, I’ll be the first to admit it,” Bartolotta said.
Bartolotta voiced pride in the sauces and pasta he served, explaining that he likes putting out a good product.
His nights at the pasta station took on a predictable rhythm. Often the cross-country team arrived first, followed by the football team, then a host of 350 other students, he estimated.
Whenever he’s mixing sauces and serving pasta, Bartolotta has a ritual to get him through the public and intense shifts. By 4 p.m., he’s finished making his sauces and takes a brief hiatus in his truck to relax before his shift starts at 5 p.m.. Over the course of the following three hours, he says he regularly consumes four cups of coffee.
“I have no regrets,” Tom said. “It was fun. I had a good time here.”
His current position at Weshop is temporary, but if a permanent job opens up, Bartolotta said he would take it.
“I could imagine retiring working at Weshop,” Bartolotta said. “I don’t want to keep working at pasta until the day I retire.”
Known to his childhood friends as “Butch,” Tom grew up in a Middletown full of local restaurants and department stores. It was a place where his father could support his family of four kids with one job, and a time where Bartolotta started smoking at age 13 and received his parent’s permission to smoke in the house at 14. The department stores have left and the tobacco laws have changed, but Bartolotta is still here. Amazingly, he has only left Connecticut once, to go to Washington state for a week-long trade school program.
Yet, there are parts of Middletown he has yet to explore, and he said the money is good here. Bartolotta also explained that he plans to work until the age of 70, and in retirement perhaps he’ll fish, or maybe he’ll get back into golf.
When asked what he cooks at home, Bartolotta responded “takeout.” Returning home around 9 p.m. from his weeknight shifts, the golden arches of McDonald’s often call his name.
Students will continue to see Tom over the next few years in Weshop, and maybe every now and then back behind the stove, but his full-time pasta days, measured in 60,000 pounds, are over.
“I’ve never understood my popularity,” Bartolotta said, as he pulled out a second cigarette. “I will never get used to that. It’s so funny…. I can’t wait to walk down the street in total anonymity.”
So from all the students of Wesleyan University, thank you Pasta Tom. We hope you have a splendid night.
Thomas Lyons can be reached at email@example.com.