On working your way up: Q&A with Midland Country Club Executive Chef Nate Sell

Nate Sell, Executive Chef at the Midland Country Club has humble roots in the culinary industry. He credits his development within the field to his innate desire to create quality cuisine, coupled with the drive to make people happy.

We had a chance to chat with him about his journey and get his advice for those who have an interest in building a rewarding career in an industry that is consistently evolving with time.

Q: Where did you get your start in the culinary arts?

A: I got into food service at fifteen years old in Greenbay, WI, scrubbing toilets, actually. I just needed money for school and at the time, I had no aspiration to work in this industry.

From there, I jumped from small cafes to chain restaurants before I took a job working for Mo’s Southwestern Grill, where I learned for the first time I could create a future in the culinary arts. Eventually, I became a manager, and started to really take the time to make food look beautiful and ensure quality.

Then when I went away for college at NMU pursuing a degree in business, I worked at Sweetwater Cafe. They told me I wouldn’t make a good server, so I was hired for a role in the kitchen. The chef there took me under his wing and we wrote articles together about recipes and he gave me consistent feedback. It was a lot of fun.

Q: How did you become the Executive Chef at the Country Club?

A: I started as a line cook and consistently said yes to more responsibility as it presented itself. Chef Patrick taught me a lot about the business side of things. Eventually, the Club made me the interim chef which grew into a permanent position shortly thereafter.

Q: What do you attribute your growth to?

A: Definitely hard work, a positive attitude and a real desire to create good cuisine. Making people happy is at the heart of this industry. I wouldn’t recommend anyone get into cooking if you’re not doing it to make people happy.

Q: What is your favorite dish to make?

A: That is a super hard question for me! I would say soup probably, all types. Pho, menudo, chili, tom yum goong, dal, chicken and dumplings, pozole and lamb stew are some of my favorites.

Honestly though, I am not sure I have a favorite thing to make. I enjoy creating so many different things. Some of my specialties are spare ribs, brisket, falafel, many different kinds of Indian dishes, sushi, Mexican cuisine...and so much more!

Q: What do you want more people to know about the culinary industry?

A: I want to raise awareness toward the level of hard work and dedication that cooks put into what they do. Throughout the industry, I see alot of businesses that don’t compensate their staff properly. We are fortunate in comparison to many.

This impacts the way I lead my team because I want them to be empowered to show up and work hard. I can’t expect things of them that I wouldn’t do myself. It is truly a team sport.

Q: What advice do you have for young chefs getting started?

A: Never stop learning, keep reading and don’t get complacent. There’s no end to this process and the possibilities are endless. Stay positive and work hard. There are great careers available in the industry and incredible workplace satisfaction. It is an ever changing industry so doesn’t get monotonous.
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