Moving from the suburbs to the city, where he also works, is one of the best decisions Michael Lange has made for himself.
“Everything is where it needs to be. The city is safe, you just have to be aware, but I am really happy here,” he says.
Michael, who is a manager and product developer at New York Bagels in Harrington Street, grew up in Grassy Park, where he learnt to bake with his mother and grandmother.
“My mother is a confectioner and runs the kitchen here at the store. I get to spend time with her and work with her. She was a big influence on the person I am today.”
When Michael was younger, New York Bagels was in Sea Point, and he often visited his mom at work.
“I know the owners since I was a boy. Everyone was like a family. My older siblings used to work in the store as well, and I was too young at the time, so when I eventually did work here, it was a natural progression for me.”
He said it took a lot of courage for him to become a chef, as it wasn’t seen as a viable career option.
“I studied environmental science at UCT thinking it was a good career move and to make my parents happy because they wanted what was best for us.”
After struggling to find work, Michael landed a part-time job at a bank, where he worked for two years.
“I wasn’t happy, but I wouldn’t take it back because I learnt how to deal with people professionally.
“Corporate was too stiff and I hardly saw my family. But most importantly, I was a creative at heart.”
He resigned from the bank to take some time to reassess his life.
“I tried to think about what makes me happy, and it has always been food, so I decided to do that.”
He then went to culinary school and worked part time at a hotel in Sea Point as his first job in the industry. “I hated it, because I had an idea of what a chef should be and this job wasn’t it.”
After his contract ended, he started at a hotel in Newlands. “I loved it there. I was so confident, and food came easy to me, so I went for it.
“It was such hard work though, I worked long hours and came home exhausted and dirty every night but it was worth it. It was a huge learning curve for me.”
He then left and started at a hotel at the Waterfront, and after two years, worked his way up to become a sous chef – second in charge – but he felt like he needed more. “Ultimately, every chef wants to have his or her own restaurant, so I decided to start working towards that.
“I got a job at Knead as a production manager and chef at one of their flagship stores. I needed more managerial experience, so I took up the position and I was very hands-on, but also my personality came out more.”
At this point, New York Bagels had closed down in Sea Point and the owners were embarking on a new venture that they had asked Michael to be part of.
“We met and I helped them with a new concept, with a newer menu and also a fresher appeal, and the new store later opened in Harrington Street.”
Michael is now front of house manager and does product development at the store.
“I create new products for the store and I get to try new things and combinations. I love experimenting – you get to push boundaries of flavour profiles and shake people’s palates a bit,” he said.