“Egg white special!” The voice rings through your head. But who is behind it all? In this latest edition of Bwog’s profiles of Columbia’s unsung friendly faces around campus, Bwog Events Editor and Chief Omelet Customizer Peter Krawczyk got to know Wilma, of Wilma’s Grill.
John Jay Dining Hall is not big on signage. Freshmen are left more or less on their own to determine where the pizza is, whether they want “Skim Milk” or “Cold Milk” in their coffee, or whether that “Turkey Meatloaf” is in fact vegan. That makes the only significant sign in the servery all the more prominent: “Wilma’s Grill.” This marks the place where every weekday morning for more than 20 years, the eponymous Wilma has connected with generations of Columbia students cooking customized omelets.
Wilma Jordan begins her weekdays at 5 A.M. in her apartment in Riverdale. She arrives at John Jay by 7 A.M. in order to prepare the ingredients for the omelets and make the batters for the cafeteria’s pancakes and waffles. Once the dining hall opens, she is at the grill for the entire morning, making omelets and eggs. While Wilma claims there’s no secret to making a great omelet, she wryly explains that the key ingredient is the most obvious one. “A lot of people like to ask the question about which came first, the chicken or the egg,” she posits. “With omelets, it’s the egg.”
Likewise, she notes that students should begin their orders specifying eggs or egg whites, so the egg can go immediately on the grill before the filling is added. Students can put any food from the cafeteria in their omelets, as long as they bring it to the grill. This often inspires Wilma’s diverse range of specials, which she chooses every morning. While her personal favorite is an egg white omelet with a mixture of vegetables and a little bit of cheese, she says her most popular special is the Meat Lover’s special, even though “mostly just the guys” order it.
Wilma doesn’t take a break the entire time she is at work, and her dedication shows in other ways. Last year, she made a significant sacrifice when she cut her hair in order to do her job better. “I don’t know if you’ve ever used a grill before, but when I’m behind there, it gets hot,” she explains. “I kept getting sweat and oils dripping down into my face when I had hair, so I decided that I was going to cut it off.” After she cut it last January, Wilma says there was an outpouring of sympathy from students who thought she was suffering from cancer. “I’m not sick, I’m just hot,” she was careful to explain.
On the weekends, Wilma enjoys going to the movies, plays, and jazz concerts. She is currently single, having divorced her husband. She does not have any children, nor does she wish she had any: “What would I do with kids, with all these that I have here? I’m like Old Mother Hubbard.” Indeed, she says that working with students and building relationships with them is the best part of her job. She loves to see students in their own environment outside of John Jay, and enjoys attending student performances and other events she is invited to.
Throughout her years at John Jay, Wilma has seen a lot. In fact, her favorite moment was when a student introduced himself to her, saying that his father had enjoyed her omelets during his time at Columbia. And having been here longer than any of us, she has one message of advice for students facing exams this week: “Enjoy life; make the most of it.”