What's Cooking? Cpl. Nico Jonathan Aquino

What do you like most about cooking?

“What I love about cooking is that you can be so creative. You can change one little thing and have something completely different from another dish. There’s so much that goes into it. Flavors, brazing, different stews, even baking — I love it all. You can do so much with so little.”

Who influenced you in your passion for cooking?

“My grandmother (Deborah Sargunas). Growing up, I was homeless and I was always going hungry, and then my grandmother took me in. My grandparents raised me. She was always telling me how to cook for myself so I didn’t ever have to worry about going hungry again. She loves cooking, too. She always plans her day around it. I started emulating that. For me, eating is the most important part of the day because it’s when the family gathers around and you talk about your day and see how everyone is feeling. It’s just something to ease your day after such a stressful day, especially for me because some days being a Marine is stressful, so coming home, sitting down next to my wife (Valeria Pina), talking to her and having good food in front of us just helps make the day that much easier.”

What influenced you to become a cook in the Marine Corps?

"I love food. I’ve always had a passion for food, so I thought I might as well try it in the Marine Corps. I always wanted to be a Marine. Who doesn’t? I wanted to pursue my passion for cooking while learning new things. Since I’ve been in, I’ve learned so many things, and then there’s the positive environment. It’s a close-knit group. We all work together. We all strive together or we all fail together, and I like that mindset. The people that I work alongside are some of the greatest people that I’ve ever worked with, and they do their best to set you up for success.”

What is your favorite type of dish to make?

“I love chicken. Chicken is really great because it has a high amount of protein, and that’s a good building block for your body since you are what you eat. Chicken is usually my go-to thing. I do like to treat myself with steaks. I do like some sirloin from time to time, but chicken is cheap and it’s pretty malleable to work with. You can do so much with chicken. You can make pot pies with it. You can grill it or fry it, everything.”

What’s one thing everyone should have in their kitchen?

“A blender, because you can use a blender to blend up a lot of your ingredients and be able to let your food marinate inside of it. I love making marinades. Whenever I have time to cook at my house, I’m always blending up my ingredients, and then I can let it marinate overnight or for 12 hours and let whatever meat I’m cooking with absorb the flavor, and then you can toss in the seasoning as well.”

What do you like most about the recipe your providing?

“It’s definitely unique. I love that is has garlic in it. I’m a garlic freak. And, I love broccoli. I wouldn’t think about having broccoli in spaghetti with the chicken, but it’s great for you and helps with your digestive system. It’s definitely different.”

Is there anything you would like to add?

“You are what you eat. Stay active in noticing what you’re eating and your nutrition because your health revolves around your nutrition. If you’re eating not so well, then you’re not going to be feeling all too well. Keep track of your diet. It’s easy just to go out and get delivery or something, but after a while of watching what you eat, you’re going to start feeling good, have a clear mind and be all around positive.”

Chicken Spaghetti


2 chicken breasts, cut into cubes or diced

1 small onion

4 gloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

2 tablespoons butter

Small amount of broccoli

1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms

1 medium tomato, chopped

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 box of spaghetti


1. Cook spaghetti and drain

2. In skillet, cook onion, garlic and basil in butter over medium high heat for two minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Add chicken and stir fry three or more minutes.

4. Add broccoli and mushrooms. Reduce heat and cook until chicken is no longer pink. Uncover and cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until liquid has evaporated.

5. Stir in tomato, spaghetti, salt and pepper. Heat through.