Cordon bleu! It’s no ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ at Waterside with University’s award-nominated Head Chef
I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do. I just enjoy it.
If you were to ask excellent eating enthusiast Mike O’Gorman why he likes to stand on his feet in a hot environment for hours at a time, fuelling people for a busy day of teaching and studying at Waterside campus, the quote above sums up the man and his mission.
Since October 2021 Mike has been the Head Chef at University of Northampton. Those (sometimes) long days see him lead a dedicated team of foodies who each day nourish UON students, staff and visitors across five hospitality hotspots at Waterside campus.
It’s a vocation that has been ground in his mixing bowl for more than 20 years, a dedication that has netted him a Whitco Chef of the Year nomination at the Weetabix Northamptonshire Food & Drink Awards. Mike explains: “I had my first taste of catering for work experience when I was 15. To cut a long story short, I have cooked ever since, so for just over 20 years, and everywhere from care home kitchens, wedding venues and Michelin star restaurants. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do. I just enjoy it.
“One similarity those places all share is the buzz you get from working in them, the kitchen is like nowhere else. They are always busy, but each has a band of people who pull together because they love keeping people happy – and there’s no better way to do that than with food because it’s fundamental to everything we do. Each day, we have the chance to make someone’s day.
“Kitchen teams can work upwards of 12 hours on their feet – and I’ve worked much longer shifts! – but it’s such a great place to be and so much happens, you never really notice the time. We are lucky at the University because our days run parallel to a ‘normal’ working day. It’s great to have a better work/life balance, but the downside is we need to squeeze more into a shorter day!”
Although Mike has a varied background in catering, managing the University of Northampton’s food outlets – total ‘population’ of around 2,500 members of staff and 10,000 students – is his biggest job to date.
And with a large proportion of international students from all over the world, there are challenges to meet. Mike continues: “Our mission is to always give our customers good, healthy, fresh food that will fill them up for a busy day of study and work and that won’t hurt their pockets, which is hugely important given the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.
“But when you have diners who come from all four corners of the world, you need to provide a variety of food. We have students with their own needs and food requirements, so as a team we always look at their feedback and design our menus around them.
“As an example, many international students prefer rice and noodle-based dishes later in the day. So, when we know they are coming in to eat, we have that food ready for them. This is something I am very proud of.
“This also pushes us as a team to educate ourselves, and I have learned so much about new cultures, and people, and how to prepare and cook different types of food. I’m developing my skill set as well as making that difference to someone’s day.”
Mike’s enthusiasm for providing fabulous food has been officially recognised, with a Weetabix Northamptonshire Food & Drink Awards Whitco Chef of the Year nomination, his third (the winners will be announced on 12 October). He concludes: “I’m not a stranger to the Award as I’ve received silver and bronze places before, so hopefully I get gold this time!
“It still feels great to have the recognition and my family are very proud. We did a ‘cook off’ already, a bit like Ready, Steady, Cook! with a brief to use pork loin or pork shoulder with local ingredients. I made a sous vide pork loin in garlic and ginger spices and, for dessert, a blueberry rum and rhubarb cheesecake with a white chocolate sauce. I put the same thought and effort into this as I do with any dish served on campus; suffice to say, I was very pleased with it!”
There are vacancies in Mike’s team for Catering Assistants and a Commis Chef. See our Jobs page for more.
Find out more about UON hosting and catering your event on our hospitality page.