Fitness model and chef, Michael Le
Michael Le is a fellow WINK Model, chef and fitness & fashion guru. We sat down with Mike to learn about his journey.
When did your interest in cooking begin?
To answer this, we really need to start from the very beginning. I grew up surrounded by chefs. Dad is a chef. Dad got me eating crazy stuff as a kid, from frog legs to sashimi. My Grand mother is a very respected chef. My uncles and aunties owned restaurants and bakeries across Sydney and worked in hospitality most of their career life.
Food was what always brought my family together, every weekend we would all come together eating a delicious home cooked meal.
Dad loved food so much he opened a take away shop at Kingsgrove when I was 8. I loved it but it took a toll on my parents relationship. Mum and dad divorced when I was only 10.
We stopped having the regular family get togethers. A lot of things changed. I could not decide who to live with, mum or dad, without feeling guilty. I eventually moved out of home at the tender age of 15, started working at maccas at 16. I had to feed myself as I didn’t have much money to splurge on fast food. So I had to learn how to cook. I discovered a new found passion in knowing what was in my food and trying to recreate dishes that I loved eating as a child and it helped me save money.
When did you decide to turn it into a career?
After working in the corporate world for over a decade, I always had a niggling feeling to be my own boss and open my own restaurant but never had the courage to pursue it due to funding and frustratingly it was frowned upon and not a preferred profession in my family after experiencing what my parents went through. I faced a lot of discouragement and had next to no support when I made the decision to change my career path from corporate to running my very own cafe, but I figured back then that the regret of not trying would be worse than failing.
Tell us about Great Aunty Three…
Great Aunty Three was established in 2011, officially opened in 2012 with very humble beginnings and a massive vision to be Sydney’s first and most beloved Vietnamese street food cafe serving food that captures the essence of home style cooking with a modern twist whilst keeping traditional flavours authentic.
My beautiful mother was the only person who believed I could bring this vision to life and gave me the support and encouragement I very much needed to pursue this vision. Mum selflessly gifted me $20,000 which took her a very long time to save, to help me open our first venue in Enmore.
Mum drove a run down 16 year old bomb that had broken down on many occasions, had faulty windscreen wipers, rattling engine and no air con but instead of purchasing a new car she chose to help me achieve my dream. Sadly, she passed away after only 1 month of opening shop in Enmore in 2012 and never got to even visit the shop.
Great Aunty Three although the brand and logo is to pay homage to my amazing and talented grandma who taught me how to cook and gave me her recipes has also become my mother’s legacy and given me a solid purpose to keep that vision alive.
We are only just getting started.
What challenges have you faced climbing the corporate ladder?
My biggest challenge, hands down was when I first started, coming from a retail and hospitality background with next to no corporate or office experience. Almost every job I applied for required 1 to 5 years office experience with minimum 60 wpm typing speed and microsoft office and Excel knowledge.
It was very discouraging I clearly recall. I had no idea what Excel even meant, a classic one finger typer (probably 25 wpm) and no office experience whatsoever.
But I did not let that stop me because I wanted to experience corporate life so much so I committed to doing volunteer work to gain office experience and enrolled into course after course to improve my office skills.
It paid off and I was able to secure a full time office job.
You are also quite skilled in the fashion and fitness departments, tell us a bit about that too?
Not sure about skilled but I know I am absolutely obsessed about health and fitness and have always wanted to achieve that chiseled physique we always see on Men’s Health magazines. I know mates who achieved an amazing level of fitness through competing professionally in body building but never thought it was possible to achieve personally for myself.
I finally had the courage to compete as a fitness model mainly to challenge myself and it was also my coach’s recommendation. Proud to say I achieved the title of ANB Oceana 2016 men’s over 30 fitness model champion. It was a grueling 16 weeks of strict dieting and intense training but one of the best experiences of my life.
Before I competed, about a year ago I met a very talented fitness photographer who saw that I had potential and connected me with WINK, which introduced me to fitness and fashion modeling.
I am so grateful to be part of the WINK family that I have pretty much went for every single job that has been offered to me that I even flew out of Sydney for work. That wasn’t an easy decision when running a restaurant and having three children.
If you had asked me 2 years ago would I ever consider myself to do fitness or fashion modeling, I would have probably said no.
This opportunity has opened my eyes on what can be achieved if you just believe in yourself and give it a go.
What’s next for you in terms of career prospects?
My goal now is to take Great Aunty Three to the next level and develop our business model to enable our business to be scalable. I am also working on an exciting food project which is in its very early stages.
Currently working with an amazing team to open our very own gym and health supplement brand.
Looking to make 2017 the biggest and best year yet.