Mike Wadja

Mike Wadja

Mike Wadja, Executive Chef of Proof on Main at 21c Museum Hotel, in Louisville, shares his career timeline and words of advice for up-and-coming professionals.

As chefs, it's our job to pass down education to up-and-coming cooks, and continuously teach and inspire them. We do this at Proof on Main by promoting education and giving our team the opportunity to create menu items. This can be something as simple as a condiment or as big as seaming out whole animals.

As a kid, being in my Oma's kitchen, I always had in the back of my mind that cooking was a possibility. It wasn't until I was 21 that I would take it seriously and decided to go to culinary school to follow my dream of being a chef.
We take a lot of time to focus on kitchen culture so they need to fit that mold. When hiring, I look for someone that is eager to learn and can get along well with our team. We can take as much time as needed to teach our style of cookery and techniques, but people skills cannot be taught.
I also always tell myself "never get too comfortable!" I continuously educate myself with reading and surrounding myself with inspiring people. When someone is showing me something, I always act ignorant to better understand their way of doing things.
I find inspiration in all kinds of places. A lot of the time, it has nothing to do with food at all. Our art museums and farms, in Louisville, are a never ending source of great inspiration!
I cannot do my job without my team. They are my daily inspiration and motivation. The mentees I work with all have a thirst for knowledge, play well with others, ask questions, have an inspiring work ethic and a great outlook on life.
A few books and publications I recommend are: Marco Pierre White's "Devil in the Kitchen", "Lucky Peach", Alex Talbot and Aki Kamozawa's "Ideas in Food", and Danny Meyer's "Setting the Table".
You must have the constant strive to be the most well rounded chef and don't be afraid to question everything. The techniques and habits passed down to us can always be challenged, but you must first understand how we got there. Never stop honing your craft!
Working with Gordon Ramsay at the London in NYC had a huge impact on my career. If I had not taken that opportunity to learn from my mentors there, who knows where I would be today. They took the time to shape me into the chef I am today. It was also the first real kitchen I had ever worked in. That feeling of camaraderie going from 1 to 2 Michelin stars is something I will never forget.
How you look is how you cook. If your station and chef whites are messy and disorganized, then so is your mindset.
I’m thrilled to be a part of 21c’s partnership with the Women in Culinary Leadership Program through the James Beard Foundation. The opportunity to shape someone’s view on a culinary career is one I greatly value.

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Inspirational Career Timelines

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Taylor Crowley
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Melanie Tapp
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Shelley Lindgren
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