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Chef Michael Orchard in his Kitchen. Photo: Supplied

Celebrating Aged Care Employee Day 2020: Thanks for caring

August 7th is Aged Care Employee Day for 2020 and while every day of every year should be used to appreciate aged care workers around Australia, this year more than ever we should take a minute to stop and thank them.

Thank you.

Thank you for the often-thankless work you do. Often in tough circumstances and, more recently, under the intense stare of the media.

Over the next few months, Aged Care Insite will be featuring the stories of all of the workers who make aged care facilities in Australia run smoothly.

First up in our ‘Thank you for caring’ series is Michael Orchard. Michael is head chef at Uniting Annesley in Haberfield, Sydney.

I’ve been in [Uniting Annesley] for 12 years, and I started in aged care back in Perth 16 years ago.

We start about six o’clock in the morning, and most days deliveries are fairly early in the morning.

The very first thing I do is to take a look at the temperature of the fridge, the freezers.

I make sure everything’s okay and then I plan my day. I work out what I’ve got to do, what’s the menu and I just kind of work out what order I’m going to prepare things.

Breakfast is made, morning teas are baked, lunch is prepared. I do the evening meal. We do cook-chill for the afternoon meals mostly, so they’re prepared as well.

We do service. We have individual homes that have little kitchenettes, and I help in one of those homes, the biggest one. Then we come back. I finish some ordering, cleaning. If I do any extra jobs, or anything that anybody needs, I usually fix that after lunch, and then I am going home at 2:00 pm.

At Annesley we’re aged care and mental health which is very unique. And a lot of their tastes are different. I think the medication does affect the appetite. From all the different facilities I’ve cooked in, the people here, the residents here, are the biggest eaters.

Most of the residents here I’ve known for probably close to four years now, so we’re very close. I know what most people here like and don’t like, and we track that with constant communication.

I actually think I’ve got a harder job [than a chef at a restaurant]. I’ve got 87 residents at the moment. I’ve got to feed them three times a day and I’ve got to make every one of them happy at the same time.

I say that in jest, I do like my job. The first thing is cooking. I couldn’t honestly tell you what else I would do if I wasn’t cooking as a job. I think cooking is the main part of my job that I enjoy. Always enjoyed cooking.

I’ve also got a really good team. There’s only five in my team, but of the five, all of them I’ve worked with probably close to 10 years.

Growing up I used to cook with my grandma and my mum and my aunt when I was a kid. I think that’s what planted the seed in my mind, when I was younger. I have great memories of cooking things like pickles and jams and lemon butter and stuff.

I did high school and started my working career in Brisbane. A couple of years into that I wanted to go overseas, and I ended up having an opportunity to travel to Japan.

And I worked in a hotel in Japan for a year and a half, in the Western section of the hotel, when I first got there. It was basic French food. And while I was there, the head chef of the hotel said to me, ‘Would you like to study some Japanese food’. And so I studied there for about a year and a half and I got a basic Japanese cooking licence for some really basic level work.

I came back to Brisbane and moved to Sydney and worked in a lot of Japanese restaurants for a long time, probably for 14 years.

I didn’t actually start doing aged care until we moved to Perth. My wife and I made the decision, ‘Okay, we’re going to move to Perth, start a life, start a family’. And I kind of landed in aged care.

It was good for the family. And it suited us at the time, and I fell in love with it. The relationships, the things that you don’t get in the restaurants. You’re cooking for somebody and somebody appreciates your food and that’s great.

Michael’s story is edited from a conversation he had with Aged Care Insite.

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