Chef Mike Lingo

“Food should be delicious and fun.”

How did you get started as a chef?

I started my career in food working at my dad’s grocery store’s deli at age 14. I have been working around food ever since.

What was your culinary education and experience before coming to McDonald’s?

Shortly after high school I enrolled in a culinary program at a local community college in my hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. While getting a culinary degree, I started working at a local Italian restaurant. The chef there convinced me to move to New York and enroll at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). I followed his guidance, and 2 years later had a degree from the CIA. I worked at a restaurant called the Terrapin in Rhinebeck, NY while getting that degree. Shortly after graduating, I had a friend who had a food science degree talk to me about getting into product development. I got a job as a research and development chef back in my home state of Iowa. I enrolled in the food science program at Iowa State University and have been working in research and development ever since.

What is your food philosophy?

Food should be delicious and fun. Most of the best times in my life have been with friends and family sharing excellent food and drink. Food excites me; I look forward to cooking and trying new things in the kitchen. I can tell you what we are having for dinner the next two nights. It’s already planned out!

Finish these sentences:

  • I love being a chef because... It’s a great outlet for creativity. I love trying new things and experimenting. The kitchen is a great place to do this.
  • Being a chef at McDonald’s… Is challenging, but also rewarding. There are a lot more hurdles to implementing menu items at a place like McDonald’s than most would think. The sheer number of restaurants that have to implement a menu item is huge. The number of suppliers that have to help create a menu item is also large. A lot of work goes into making sure those suppliers are producing our food consistently and at a high level of quality. The number of ingredients and the availability of those ingredients all play a factor. Sometimes, there are just not enough ingredients to supply all McDonald's locations. However, when you get a menu item that rolls out, passes all the hurdles and is a success, it feels great!
  • If I wasn’t a chef, I would probably be… Working in a field of design. I would probably be an architect or in landscaping – possibly even interior design. 

What is a day-in-the-life of a chef at McDonald’s?

Every day is different. One day you could be developing a new sandwich in the kitchen. The next, you could be working on developing a new ingredient with a supplier. From here you could go into presenting a new idea to the company leadership. It requires a diverse skill set.

McDonald’s is making changes to the menu. What are you most excited about?

I think it’s good that we are getting back to our roots. I think our customers are going to love it.

What is the most common question you’re asked when people find out you are a chef at McDonald’s?

Everyone asks, “Why don’t you put this ___ on the menu?” I think everyone has their own idea of what McDonald’s should be doing.

What would surprise a lot of people to know about McDonald’s culinary team?

I think that the number of people on it with culinary backgrounds would surprise people. I don’t think they know we have so many chefs working here now.

What is your favorite McDonald’s menu item?

I love the Big Mac.

What do you enjoy cooking for your family and friends?

I really enjoy cooking during the holidays. Big roasts, braises, stews and comfort foods that everyone loves. That’s what I enjoy cooking the most for my family and friends.

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