Find out more about our Head Chef, Michelle Charles, in this exclusive interview...
Where did you work before the Corn Exchange?
I worked as a live in nanny for many years while trying to decide what I wanted to do long term. During that time I was able to travel a lot and experience different cultures and cuisines. That, coupled with the hustle and bustle of looking after the children I cared for whilst still getting the evening family meal together, pointed me in the direction of wanting to be a chef.
I chose to go to a university where I would learn how to be a chef and how to be a manager and graduated with dual degrees in Culinary Arts and Hotel Restaurant Management. At the same time I successfully completed an apprenticeship programme with the American Culinary Federation. Before I finished my degrees I was hired as a restaurant manager with Wegmans Food Markets, one of the most progressive food retailers in the US. I stayed there until moving to the UK in 2000. Upon moving to the UK I worked as a chef at Vodafone HQ before being promoted to Catering Manager at Vodafone Horizon West. I moved back to America from 2007-2015 where I owned my own catering company as well as working per diem for local restaurants and inns. I returned to the UK in 2015 and, after a briefly returning to my previous position as Catering Manager at Vodafone, I was hired at the Corn Exchange in September, 2016.
What inspires you to be creative with food?
I think what inspires me the most is the joy and togetherness that food brings.
How do you start putting together a menu?
Firstly I have to consider what our customers would like to eat. Once that's established I put my own mark on it but make sure it's still within our customers' comfort zone. For example, we offer a mature cheddar sandwich with a lovely Bengal carrot pickle which is a simple little twist from the usual sandwich pickle. Sometimes I find a product or ingredient that is deliciously different and will find a way to use it on the menu. This was the case with the banana ketchup that we serve with our lamb and coriander burger. They complement each other so well and the company that produces it uses 'wonky' bananas that would otherwise have gone into the bin, so it's a win-win situation.
What does a typical day at work look like?
One of the joys of working in a theatre is that there is no such thing as a typical day. The first thing that happens each day is I prepare everything on the menu ready for service. I frequently work with other departments like Learning and Participation to organise special events, such as a Cream Tea afternoons for Dementia Awareness. I also work with people who hire areas of the building for anything from birthday parties to conferences to provide catering for their events. I am also responsible for looking after the hospitality riders for the artists that perform at the Corn Exchange, making sure they are refreshed, nourished and ready to take the stage.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Everything! But quite honestly, the very best part is that I get to work with such a wonderful group of people. They say that if you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life. I am very lucky to have a job that doesn't feel like work, with people who are more like family, in a place that feels like home.