Hagerstown man trades his chef hat in for a pastor's collar

July 07, 2010|By CHRIS COPLEY
  • The Rev. Michael Hydes serves a church in downtown Hagerstown. But in an earlier career, he served as chef in restaurants in England.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

The Rev. Michael Hydes serves as pastor of the New Light Metropolitan Community Church in Hagerstown. He lives with his partner, Chris Baker, in an apartment above the church on Church Street.

But he grew up in a small town not far from Leeds, England. His mother was a cook and caterer, preparing dishes in the family kitchen. His uncle was a chef for hospitals.

"I grew up in Keighley, West Yorkshire, and started off life as a chef," he said. "It runs in the family."

Besides food, the other love of young Michael's life was the Lord. His mother was a faithful Jehovah's Witness, and Michael grew up in the church. He embraced his faith and spent several years knocking on doors to spread the faith.

But at 16, Hydes set his sights on a career in cooking.

He served a commis chef - essentially, an apprentice to a head chef. He also took classes in food safety and preparation at his local community college. He cooked with a variety of diners and restaurants in Yorkshire.


Then he got a big break.

"This was back in the early '80s. There was a job shortage, a difficulty recruiting people in London," he said. "I left the job I had in the north of England. I went to London and interviewed in one of the big hotels. They took one look at me in my early 20s and said 'no.'"

But he came back and interviewed at Milton's, a white-tablecloth restaurant on New Bond Street, a ritzy shopping district in London.

"Milton's said 'Yes. Can you start Monday?'" Hydes said. "I happened to be in the right place in the right time."

Working at Milton's was not that different from working at the West Yorkshire diner he left. People are people, Hydes said, and they all appreciate good food, whether it's bacon sandwiches or osso buco. But with VIPs and politicians eating at Milton's, the margin for error was less.

"You can't make mistakes in Milton's. Whereas in the previous place, you could," he said.

Another thing about cooking professionally is working late into the night.

"The thing about cheffing is you either have great hours and bad pay or bad hours and great pay," he said.

He cooked and managed a hallal restaurant called King's for a couple years. All that was satisfying, but after working for a decade as a chef, Hydes left the profession for something new - engineering and repairing mechanical systems.

"In my own mind, they're not a million miles apart," he said. "A recipe is like a machine - you're looking for the one little thing that's not working. It's about pulling things together in the right order."

So Hydes worked for 10 years as an engineer, and then went through another career change. He studied for the ministry at King's College in London and was ordained.

Becoming a minister allowed Hydes to share with others one of the great experiences of his life.

"When I was 29, I met God and everything I knew went out the window," he said. "I love to see God work."

Hydes finished his studies in New York City, worked for a year at a Metropolitan Community Church in New York and then moved to Hagerstown. He likes the way the MCC denomination seeks to serve those not usually reached by mainstream churches.

"In the States, we're known as the church that reaches into the (lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender) population," he said. "In Africa, we reach out to people with AIDS. In Asia, we work with progressive Christian organizations on humans rights issues."

Being a faithful Christian is not a cake walk, in Hydes' opinion. It's easy to reduce Christian faith to a couple of familiar platitudes. It's hard to nurture a living, breathing faith.

"One of the things that hasn't happened today is the church hasn't made Christianity relevant," he said. "If it's something you've been given, it won't hold up when you need it. My job as a minister is to create a safe space for people to meet God."

Yorkshire puddings

2 eggs
1 cup of strong, white flour (bread flour is best)
1 cup of milk
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup olive oil or melted beef fat

Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

Put all eggs, flour, milk and salt in a mixing bowl and whisk with a hand whisk just until any lumps have gone. Do not use a blender or over-whisk, or they will not rise.

Place a bun or muffin tin into the oven with a tablespoon of fat in each section. Olive oil is the healthy choice, but good beef fat works best.

When the tin begins to smoke, pour equal amounts of the batter into each section and bake at the top of the oven, for around 30 minutes or until brown and crisp.

- The Rev. Michael Hydes

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