One of the most memorable cooks in the 4077th was played by a veteran character actor called Val Bisoglio.
He’s first introduced as “the cook” in the ninth-season MAS*H episode “The Life You Save.”
In this episode, Hawkeye Pierce is attempting to teach the surly cook how to prepare “the greatest French toast you ever tasted.”
As Hawkeye preciously dictates how to make the family recipe, he tells the cook that he’ll know the French toast is ready by pinching the bread after it soaks.
We then watch as the cook carelessly dumps the ingredients into an enormous pot, emptying a bag of bread into the eggy mixture before turning to Hawkeye to ask, “Would you care to pinch it, or shall I?”
The surly nature of this exchange became a recurring joke as Bisoglio made two more appearances in the next season.
In “‘Twas the Day After Christmas,” it’s Charles Winchester III who becomes one cook too many in Bisoglio’s kitchen.
Whereas in “The Life You Save,” Bisoglio is simply known as “the cook,” in this second appearance, the character gets a name: Sal Pernelli.
Winchester’s desired menu he dictates to Sal, of course, is much more pretentious than Hawkeye’s simple French toast request.
The snooty major requests chipped beef bourguignon, potatoes Lyonnaise and rum baba, which he tells Sal is fine food, “the likes of which have never before crossed your plebeian palate.”
When Sal confirms he doesn’t know how to make any of this food, Winchester insults him by saying, “You call yourself a chef?”
“I call myself a cook,” Sal answers. “Chefs ain’t got tattoos.” (Funny how that line has not dated well.)
Taking the bit further, in Bisoglio’s final appearance in the episode “A Holy Mess,” it’s not just one cast member ordering him around in his kitchen, but a whole group of soldiers who all want their eggs cooked differently for breakfast.
“Everybody gets scrambled,” Sal says after the chaotic ordering goes on for too long. “No special orders. Period!”
When Bisoglio made these MAS*H appearances, he was better known on TV for playing Danny Tovo, the owner of Danny’s, a restaurant that Jack Klugman’s character on Quincy, M.E. frequents.
Bisoglio played Danny Tovo from 1976 to 1983, and he said told The Daily News in 1982 that he had so many scenes written into Quincy, M.E. because his restaurant gave writers a place to turn whenever they had a few extra minutes to add to an episode.
“Whenever the writers find they’re a little short of time after they wrap up the case, they write in a little scene at the restaurant,” Bisoglio said. “It’s only one minute or two, at the most. So, I’m the one or two-minute man!”
Bisoglio was at home as a restaurant owner in this role, because he actually owned a luncheonette in New York before he became an actor.
He told the Tacoma News Tribune in 1981 that his restaurant was “quite similar to the one I operate in Quincy.”
The story goes that Bisoglio left that restaurant to his family to run and then moved to Las Vegas, where he worked as a waiter until a doctor told him he should try getting into acting as a form of therapy for his bad nerves.
“I thought it was kind of silly at first, but pretty soon I got to liking it — the acting bug bit me pretty good,” Bisoglio told The Montgomery Advertiser in 1981.
Once bitten, Bisoglio started taking acting classes and moved to Hollywood, where he also worked as a waiter at Earl Carroll’s Supper Club.
These restaurant jobs would later help him once he got cast on Quincy, M.E., where Klugman saw Bisoglio as a true character, and Bisoglio saw Klugman as his greatest teacher.
“Working with Klugman is like having a built-in tutor on hand to keep your efforts at their highest levels,” Bisoglio told the San Bernardino County Sun in 1981.
In his career, Bisoglio appeared on TV on hit shows like M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in the Family and Bonanza, always making the most of his “one or two minutes.” Over time, he became the kind of character actor who casting directors put out bulletins seeking: “a Val Bisoglio-type.”
Though TV fans might remember him best as the owner of Quincy’s favorite restaurant, movie fans can’t forget him as John Travolta’s father, ruffling Tony’s fluffy hair in Saturday Night Fever. His roles became more diverse, but at first, he was typecast not as a restaurant owner or cook, but as a gangster.
“All I kept getting offered were Italian gangster parts,” Bisoglio told the Daily News in 1982. “I had my old nose then, all broken and out of shape, and I really looked like a hood. No wonder that’s how they saw me. I’m older now, and I’ve really mellowed out.”
This was right around when he was appearing on M*A*S*H, as the cook with tattoos who is decidedly not the “chef” that the 4077th wants him to be.
“Now I think of myself as maybe a nice guy, a little on the shady side,” Bisoglio said.