Chef Michael Haracz
As the Manager of Culinary Innovation at McDonald’s, Chef Michael Haracz helps to research and develop new dishes for the McDonald’s menu. Read on to learn more about his cooking career, food philosophy, and what it takes to be a McDonald’s chef.
"I took any cooking classes that I could, including being the only boy in my home economics class."
How did you get started as a chef?
Growing up, I would always help my mom and grandma in the kitchen. While other kids were watching cartoons, I would watch cooking shows like, ‘Great Chefs’, ‘Yan Can Cook’, and ‘The Frugal Gourmet’. I took any cooking classes that I could, including being the only boy in my home economics class.
What was your culinary education and experience before coming to McDonald’s?
I started taking cooking classes in 7th grade. When I got to high school, I was able to take part in the ProStart program offered by the Illinois Restaurant Association, which would allow me to work and go to school at the same time. After that, I went to Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI and graduated Magna Cum Laude with an associate degree in Culinary Arts and a bachelor’s degree in Culinary Nutrition.
I started cooking in kitchens when I was 15 and worked in a variety of corporate chains, private country clubs, and with a catering company. I was fortunate enough to spend some time in England working at the Wentworth Club in Virginia Waters, Surrey. However, while in culinary school, I started to learn about food science and product development, which excited me. So I switch my dreams from owning my own restaurant to becoming an R&D Chef. I acquired an internship at Orval Kent Foods in Wheeling, IL, close to my home town of Schaumburg, and ended up with a job before I even graduated. Since then, I have worked for companies like Woodland Foods, Nation Pizza and Foods, as well as an R&D Chef for Culinary Sales Support, Inc., which brings me to McDonald's.
What is your food philosophy?
Especially as an R&D Chef, my philosophy is to give the customer what they want. I am in no place to judge anyone else’s particular preferences when it comes to food, so I have no problem using expensive ingredients, or keeping it simple for someone who is not as adventurous. My personal cooking style leans toward upscale American comfort foods, but I like to take whatever ingredients I have on hand and be as creative as possible.
Finish these sentences:
1. I love being a chef because... there is nothing better than seeing the joy in someone’s face after they have the best meal of their lives.
2. Being a chef at McDonald’s... being one of the biggest restaurants in the world, I have the opportunity to feed more people than any other chef on the planet.
3. If I wasn’t a chef, I would probably be... in a band trying to make it as a rock star.
What is a day-in-the-life of a chef at McDonald’s?
Although I spend a good amount of time in the kitchen, there are plenty of meetings and research being conducted every day. I may be with a group of suppliers discussing consumer and flavor trends, with our operations team figuring out the best way to manage a new menu item, with our marketing team planning how to promote a future platform, or even participating in a taste panel and giving my opinion on a potential future project. Even outside of work, it is important for us to be brand ambassadors since we are always in the spotlight.
McDonald’s is making changes to the menu. What are you most excited about?
I am very excited about McDonald’s push to simplify the menu, as well as offer new, premium sandwich options.
What is themost common question you’re asked when people find out you are a chef at McDonald’s?
People don’t seem to know that there are actual chefs who create these menu items, so it usually starts by discussing how it all works. Then, I am usually asked to add something to the menu for them, or bring back an old item which was discontinued.
What would surprise a lot of people to know about McDonald’s culinary team?
Because we work with so many different people, on any given day, we can have 10 or more chefs working on a project. Members of the culinary team all come from diverse backgrounds, but are well-trained in multiple culinary disciplines, and bring new and creative ideas to the table.
What’s your long-term goal for the McDonald's menu?
Although our value and mid-tier items will always be a hit with our consumers, I want there to be a permanent place for upscale, high-end burgers and sandwiches on the menu; seasonal and rotating menus which bring new flavors to our customers and open their minds to try new things.
What is your favorite McDonald’s menu item?
I have always been a fan of the classic Quarter Pounder with Cheese, but one of my new favorite items is the Signature Crafted Sweet BBQ Bacon burger (currently being tested in a few markets).
What do you enjoy cooking for your family and friends?
I compete in Kansas City Barbeque Society competitions, as well as being a certified BBQ judge, so I usually have the smoker going most weekends. However, my beautiful wife eats like a 5-year old, so burgers, mac & cheese, and pizza are common in our house as well.