Behind the Apron: A peek into the life of Whole Foods culinary chef Michael Wake

As chef Michael Wake runs around the kitchens of Whole Foods overseeing multiple culinary projects and bringing delicious dishes to life, he is living what for many would be the the culinary dream. With the help of hard work, fearless determination, and undoubtable talent, Wake was able to find his home in such a beloved Austin staple, Whole Foods.

By Joanna Steblay

Photo courtesy Michael Wake

Photo courtesy Michael Wake

Long before becoming a chef, Wake began his culinary career as a burger flipper for the local fast food restaurant behind his house. His sole motivation for entering the culinary industry was to purchase his first car, a vehicle he fondly recalls as the “amazing 1979 Pontiac Firebird.” While he went on to pursue his college degree, Wake continued to cultivate his love for cooking on the side, and his work paid off, taking care of half his college tuition. Wake graduated with a degree in international affairs, but quickly realized he didn’t belong in a traditional office environment — he belonged in the kitchen.

With this life-changing realization, Wake never looked back. He completed culinary school and began cooking all over Colorado. Interestingly enough, before landing at Whole Foods, Wake wound up at a natural foods competitor of the company. Eventually, Whole Foods bought out the competitor, a business move that changed the course of Wake’s life. When Wake later moved to Austin, it was a natural transition for him to cook at the Whole Foods flagship, in the city where it all started. Wake loved what Whole Foods stood for and their expansions in the health foods industry, as they created the organic produce standard. Today, Wake has been with the Whole Foods culinary team for almost 12 years.

From serving as executive chef in the prepared foods department to helping spearhead the culinary center and its cooking school, Wake has truly seen the “whole” of Whole Foods evolve. The establishment also has a new company wellness center on the way. “It’s exciting. Whole Foods is always pushing the envelope on what it means to be a natural foods-minded business, which I personally feel like is the future,” Wake says. “Whole Foods is really trying to make our country have a better perspective of how to eat and why you choose certain foods to eat.”

Wake spends his time racing around Whole Foods corporate cafés and managing kitchens, while also leading the company’s food truck team. The food truck has quickly become one of Wake’s favorite parts of his job, as he gets to decide where it travels, what foods it serves and the events it caters. The truck caters events such as elementary school carnivals, corporate stops, major music festivals like Fun Fun Fun Fest and special days at children’s museum the Thinkery. The truck challenges Wake creatively and keeps him intrigued with his job. Though he doesn’t attend all events with his truck team, Wake enjoys the mobility that comes with running between the food trucks, the cafes and the new state of the art food production kitchen. “I have worked in a lot of places, and I’m always feeling like there’s a point in most careers or jobs where you feel like it’s kind of plateaued. What I love most about Whole Foods is that it’s always moving into a forward, more interesting concept,” Wake says. “Just to think that the company I work for is actively trying to make positive change — it is not something that you often get to say about your job.”

Understandably, Wake seems to have little regret about leaving international affairs for the kitchen. With 27 years of impressive culinary experience under his belt, an expansive Whole Foods culinary team now beneath him and a recent cooking segment that appeared on Fox 7 News, Michael Wake proves that life passions are worth chasing, even if they start with flipping burgers.