Q&A with Andrea Noonan, Executive Chef of the Great Lakes Loons

Andrea Noonan was born and raised in Essexville, Michigan. She dreamed of working in the hospitality field starting at a young age, studying Culinary Arts at the Bay-Arenac ISD Center. She then moved on to study at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island before returning to Michigan.

With over twenty-five years of food service experience in restaurants, hotels and conference centers. Andrea is now the Executive Chef for the Great Lakes Loons, and we sat down with her to learn more about what happens behind the scenes at one of Midland’s biggest attractions.

Q: How long have you been working with the Great Lakes Loons?

A: I have been working with the Loons for eight years, and I am starting my seventh year as the executive chef. In the beginning I worked in the kitchen and then later transitioned to this role.

Q: Can you tell us a little about what your day-to-day work with the Loons entails?

A: Certainly! I play a role in all ordering of food, staffing the kitchens, developing recipes, handling menu pricing and planning, and sometimes they even let me cook! I actually do cook quite a bit.

Q: It sounds like you are responsible for a quite a bit! Can you tell us the different aspects of ballpark guests that the kitchen serves?

A: Well, when we have home games, I feed the players three times a day. I feed the general public when they come to the games, the suite-holders and their guests, and groups who use our rooms as venues. We also host weddings, fundraiser events, galas, retirement parties and special events. I’m one of the lucky few that holds a year-round position in the kitchen.

Q: How did you get your start in the culinary world?

A: I was born a chef, and became a part of the hospitality world. It’s the only thing in life I have ever had interest in doing. I went to Bay City All Saints, and I knew my eighth-grade year that I wanted to attend the Bay Arenac Career Center for their culinary program. I planned out all four years of high school right away to be able to achieve that goal in my junior and senior year. I spent half-days at the career center. We were thrown in and started doing short co-ops and internships with local restaurants, and it all kind of snowballed from there.

Through the career center I was very active in a club called Skills USA, and I became a senior officer. Then I was able to apply for a college scholarship based on my service with that club, and received a four-year scholarship to Johnson Wales University in Providence, RI.

Q: What is something people may be surprised to hear about the behind the scenes kitchen at the stadium?

A: Well, most people who come to the stadium for a special event will ask the question ‘Who does your catering?’ Most folks don’t know that we have a full-time chef on staff.

We also work hard. If we have a 6:00 p.m. game, we start cooking at 9:00 a.m. Our shifts begin that early because we have to receive trucks, put everything away, and start prepping ingredients to be ready by game time.

All of the little stations and “portables” that are at the game, are fed by our kitchens. The two concession stands in the building are items where I am more hands off, as that is food cooked-to order. We do more of the batch cooking.

Q: What is your favorite food to create?

A: I love making lasagna, meatloaf and meatballs. I really like the labor of love that goes into it. You cannot just throw it in or stir it up, it takes more planning than that. When all is said and done I still love the feel-good comfort foods.

Q: What is something you would like to learn?

A: There is so much! I have always wanted to live the cruise ship employee experience, which is odd but true. There’s something about the idea of just being one hundred percent absorbed in your work. When you’re on a cruise ship, you eat, sleep and feed people. That’s it. That’s very intriguing to me.

Q: What inspires you in your career?

A: I like to be present when our guests are eating. It’s quite rewarding to see someone take a bite of your food and smile, or turn to their friend and enjoy sharing it. That’s what keeps me working in food service. Hearing the positive comments really make me happy.

Thank you for joining us Andrea! For more information on the exciting new season coming up, check out the Great Lakes Loons Facebook page. Many event spaces sell out fast, so contact the Loons ticket offices to reserve your spot and enjoy delicious food from the hands, heart and soul of Executive Chef Andrea Noonan.