John Pulsifer stands near trays of fruit pies hot from the oven that were baked for the Franco Center’s Oct. 14 bean supper recently. He has over 55 years of experience baking pies and will bake pre-ordered pies for the center’s holiday pie sale. Franco Center photo

LEWISTON — John Pulsifer is a big man and at 71, he uses a cane to get around. In his leisure time, he moves slow and cautious, but catch him in a kitchen? 

John Pulsifer made 60 pies to raise money for the Franco Center in Lewiston in 2017. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal file

Good luck keeping up with the man. In the kitchen, Pulsifer moves with the efficient speed of a man quite at home with his surroundings. 

And Pulsifer is, for sure, at home in a kitchen. Any kitchen. This is a man who has been cooking professionally for nearly 60 years, after all. Not long ago, he received a special plaque commending him for the preparation of 6 million meals over the course of his career. 

Impressive, right? Pulsifer has no idea if that number is accurate. 

“I think maybe they exaggerated a little,” he says in his terse way. 

Perhaps, but consider this: Pulsifer has been the executive chef at the Fernwood Summer Camp For Girls in Poland since 1972. Feeding as many as 400 hungry camp kids each day, it is estimated that he and his staff serve 60,000 meals at Camp Fernwood over the course of a summer. Pulsifer has been doing that for more than 50 years and that’s only one of his cooking gigs. 


The math gets crazy. Pulsifer himself doesn’t try to keep track of the numbers and laughs off any attempts to do so. He’s far more impressed with the 6,000-square-foot kitchen at Camp Fernwood than he is with the matter of how many meals he’s served. And to think that when he first started out at the camp all those years ago, it was supposed to be a temporary job. 

“The job was suppose to last three weeks,” Pulsifer says. “Long three weeks.” 

This week, Pulsifer will be baking pies for the Franco Center’s holiday pie sale. The menu lists 37 different pies, all made from scratch. The crusts were made with vegetable shortening, butter, flour, and salt. The fillings are made from scratch, too, according to Pulsifer. 

“It’s fresh frozen fruit in the fruit-pie fillings,” he says. “The Forest Fruit pie is a blend of apple, rhubarb, raspberry and blueberry, all fresh frozen,” he said.

In coming days, he’ll be banging out tourtière pies, salmon pies (fresh salmon, mind you, not the canned stuff) and all the pies favored as desserts around the holidays. By late in the day last Wednesday, the day before the ordering deadline, 79 of Pulsifer’s pies had been pre-ordered. 

“I’ve ordered five pies for my own holiday meal,” says Denise Scammon, marketing and development director at the Franco Center. “Three of them are meat pies. I got one pumpkin and one chocolate cream because I’ve heard that John makes the best chocolate cream pies ever.” 


Does he make the best chocolate cream pie in the world? Don’t ask Pulsifer. This chef is about as unpretentious as they come. There is a distinct no-nonsense attitude about him and if you want to get Pulsifer’s thoughts on something, you’ll probably have to chase him around a kitchen to do so.

John Pulsifer and Sous Chef Terry Clavet pose with some of the 200 pies they baked for the Franco Center’s annual sale in 2017. Courtesy Mitchell Clyde Thomas


In the narrow kitchen at the back of the Franco Center last Wednesday afternoon, Pulsifer was moving about with that efficient speed we talked about earlier. Here he is removing a roasted chicken from a pan and draining the juices into a bowl. Then he’s on the other side of the kitchen, placing one pan into the washer and producing another from a cabinet. Catch up with him there and he’s off to the next task, clanging and banging as he goes.

Though it’s a relatively small kitchen — “a typical old-church kitchen,” he calls it — Pulsifer has been completely comfortable working here over the past eight-plus years. When the center hosts a bean supper, a holiday event or any kind of affair that requires meals, they call their head chef, John Pulsifer. In addition to baking all those holiday pies, for instance, Pulsifer has also been preparing chicken salad and other items for an upcoming Franco Center event during which 130 people will need to eat.

If Pulsifer gets rattled by the sheer amount of cooking he does by trade, it doesn’t show. Why should it, when you consider how long he’s been at it? The man is one of those rare types who knew what he wanted to do with his life while he was still in grade school.

“My mother hated to cook,” Pulsifer says. “She wasn’t bad it it, just hated to do it, so my grandmother taught me to bake bread and stuff.” 


Pulsifer continued sharpening his culinary skills throughout his school career, with an emphasis on baking. 

“When I was in high school, I thought I wanted to be a baker, but back in those days, restaurants were getting rid of all their bakers,” he says. “There were no baking jobs so I just kept cooking.” 

He graduated from Edward Little High School and then set off for an unknown culinary future.

A fun fact about John Pulsifer: At one point following graduation, Pulsifer was expected to join the CIA. 

No, really, the CIA accepted him into its ranks and everything. There’s just one twist.

“Not the government CIA,” Pulsifer says, when he sees the perplexed look on the reporter’s face. “The Culinary Institute of America. I had been accepted there, but my father wouldn’t let me go. He didn’t want to turn me loose in New Haven, Connecticut.” 


Pulsifer instead graduated from a culinary arts program at what was then Central Maine Vocational Technical Institute. From there, he’s been cooking pretty much non-stop, putting in time as chef at a variety of restaurants, including The City Side Grill in Lewiston and Eddie’s Diner, which later became the Village Inn in Auburn. 

He owned and operated Red’s Pizza in Mechanic Falls and Eggcettera in Poland and also taught culinary arts at Central Maine Community College. Looking over his career in cooking, one might get the impression that Pulsifer does it all. 

But that’s not quite true. 

“I absolutely despise short-order cooking,” he says. “It’s just annoying dealing with the waitstaff and all that.” 

And there is also the matter of cooking for himself at home. With his kids grown and his wife gone, it’s easy to form a picture of John Pulsifer preparing lavish seven-course meals for himself in his own sprawling and immaculate kitchen. 

Guess again. Pulsifer actually snickers at this notion. 


“After I’ve cooked all day, the last thing I want to do is go home and cook,” he says. “Most of the time, you can’t even find the top of my stove. I’ve got a cookie jar sitting there, and all the teapots and a couple cast iron pans. I don’t have any room there at all. I use one burner for breakfast, that’s about it.” 

One wonders what the man eats for dinner. 

“That’s what drive-thrus and deliveries were invented for,” he says.

John Pulsifer pulls two peach/raspberry pies out of the oven at the Franco Center in Lewiston in 2017. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal


It was Mitchell Clyde Thomas, former director of The Franco Center, who hired Pulsifer in 2015 to cater the center’s various events. He hired the chef specifically because of his flexibility and open-mindedness, and Thomas wasn’t disappointed once Pulsifer got started. 

“When John came, he was willing to try different dishes and whole meals outside of his comfort zone,” Thomas says. “So we would have him come in and supervise and help with this huge group of women from a particular African country, depending on the wedding or the occasion. He would not only manage the kitchen with these 12 or more women with food everywhere, but he would also get in there and learn from them and even make suggestions on how to get all this food prepared and put out in a commercial-size kitchen. We would have these huge African weddings and John was right in the middle of it all.


“He was also an amazing asset when it came to our prom meals and our other specials that we did,” Thomas says. “The specials included things like the medieval feast and the pirate banquet. He was just so full of ideas, for the menus AND for the decorating. The man was an amazing source of decor. Very creative.” 

And then there are the pies. One year, with the help of Sous Chef Terry Clavet, Pulsifer put out more than 200 pies to be sold to the general public. 

“We did orders ahead of time and he managed that whole thing,” Thomas says. “He is one of the most organized people I’ve ever met.” 

Organized and skilled, no doubt. If you start talking to people who have worked with Pulsifer or who have eaten his food, you come to understand that the stories about his talents are not exaggerated. 

“I knew him when he was running City Side Grill on Park Street,” says Paul Cote Jr., who worked for Pulsifer. “Everyone liked his cooking — raved about the desserts.” 

When you mention these kinds of accolades to Pulsifer, again he just kind of shrugs. Then he dashes off to the next kitchen assignment and brother, you need running shoes to keep up with him. 


The taciturn nature is just kind of his personal style. Pulsifer has a great sense of humor, says Thomas, but it’s a wry humor and not always easy to read. Is he annoyed? Amused? Happy to be talking with me or wishing I would go away?

“Not everyone understands his gruff exterior at times,” says Thomas, “but I truly appreciated his brilliant mind and his ability to turn food into an event.” 

And while there is no shortage of people who will rave about Pulsifer’s meat pies, desserts and other culinary creations, Thomas is quick to rave about the man’s character, as well.

“John is a kind and very generous human being,” he says. “Most people have no idea the sacrifices he has made for people throughout his life. He would literally give the shirt off his back.” 

At the end of the interview with Pulsifer in the Franco Center kitchen, this reporter scratched his head, reviewed his notes and wondered aloud if he had enough to work with. 

“Do I have anymore questions for you?” I asked.

“Hope not,” said Pulsifer. 

There’s that wry sense of humor. The man was just kidding. 

We think. 

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