New chef brings experience, passion for food to campus

University Dining strives to serve balanced, nutritious and diverse meals
Merle M. Price Commons Executive Chef Matt Wormer dishes up a meal at the Commons. / UW-Stout photo by Chris Cooper
Pam Powers | October 14, 2021

Matt Wormer loves the fast pace of working in a kitchen.

Hired in May, Wormer is the University of Wisconsin-Stout University Dining Merle M. Price Commons executive chef.

“You have to be ready for 100 or 200 people to walk up the stairs of the Commons. They are hungry and they want to eat,” Wormer said. “It’s all hands on deck.

“It’s exciting for a chef to see people being happy and being fulfilled,” he added.

Wormer, of Ridgeland, grew up in the Prairie Farm area on a family-owned 60-head dairy farm where he learned where food originates. His first job off the dairy farm while in high school was at Turtleback Golf Course restaurant in Rice Lake, learning basic knife work and cooking skills. He eventually became a line cook.

After graduating from Prairie Farm High School in 2005, Wormer went to Shoreline Community College in Washington largely to work with the archery coach.

Matt Wormer
Matt Wormer / UW-Stout photo

“I had hopes of making an Olympic team someday,” he noted. Wormer has garnered third at the Wisconsin state archery indoor shoot and still shoots at state and national level competitions.

“It helped me deal with stressful environments,” Wormer said. “Shooting archery is like meditation. You need to open your mind to shoot. You have to focus on every shot and put it in the middle of the target.”

Eventually, he opted to switch schools and went to the world’s premier culinary college, Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.. There Wormer learned and refined his culinary skills and craft. While in college he had an internship at Walt Disney World in Orlando working at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort in the Kona Café. He  made 450 to 500 meals for dinner with a team of six cooks.

After graduating with his associate degree, he worked at Mohonk Mountain House, an iconic resort in the Hudson Valley in New Paltz, N.Y., and Mashomack Fish and Game Preserve Club, a private sporting preserve and social club, for about a year before he returned to the area to work as Turtleback executive chef for about nine years.

Then Wormer decided he wanted a change and saw the UW-Stout executive chef position.

“I know those jobs don’t open up that often,” Wormer said, noting he loves working with other food service professionals at the university.

Balanced, nutritious and diverse meals

University Dining Director Justin Krahn said Wormer has been a positive addition to UW-Stout.

“He is gaining experience in his position quickly and is quick to think on his feet to make suggestions to accomplish the task at hand,” Krahn said. “He works side by side with his Price Commons team and University Dining management team, building on common goals and has shown caring and compassion for them.

Krahn said Wormer works well with Executive Chef David Leach in the Memorial Student Center and the  two executive chefs are able to bounce ideas off one another with their passion for food.

 

icon
Justin Krahn / UW-Stout photo

Leach is in charge of catering and the student center kitchens and retail operations.

“I have also seen Chef Matt training and caring for our students, and that is a great fit for our team. He stays extra hours and goes the extra mile to train, develop workstations with students and his team. He is full speed ahead on understanding that University Dining is here for the total student experience and campus community,”  Krahn said. 

The Commons is the busiest dining area on campus. In the first five days of class, 11,000 meals were served there, an average of 2,200 meals a day.

In one day, the Commons goes through 230 pounds of French fries. In one meal it  serves about 60 gallons of milk. The first week nearly 3,000 buns were served, mostly with chicken sandwiches and hamburgers, Wormer said.

University Dining makes sure balanced, nutritional and diverse meals are available for students, with a full salad bar and fresh dairy products like yogurt and cottage cheese, Wormer said.

Wormer’s favorite food to make is pho, a Vietnamese soup dish consisting of broth, rice noodles, herbs and meat. It may someday become part of University Dining’s menu. “Comfort food is wonderful,” Wormer said. “Pho is delicious. It can be cheap to make and very, very good, and made correctly it is one of the best dishes ever.”

Buying local

University Dining is also striving to buy local food, when possible, Wormer said.

During the Great American Cookout this fall, the 120 dozen ears of sweet corn served were grown just north of Menomonie on Gary Buckley’s farm. The potatoes served by University Dining are grown in the Rice Lake area.

The UW-Spout Campus Garden community supported agriculture program also helps by growing cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and other vegetables for the Commons.

Wormer enjoys working with students. “Sometimes this is their first job,” he noted. “Learning to work with food and prepare foods is a skill that is a lifetime asset. I want to help teach students where their food is grown and where it comes from. It’s all connected.”

Besides the Commons, UW-Stout has dining options at North Point Cafeteria, Commons Express, North Point Mini Mart, Fireside Café, Blue Devil Market, Brew Devils, Jarvis Express and Harvey Hall Express.

The university offers three dining plans.


Alum’s inspiring legacy will continue with scholarship, professorship in his name

In many ways, John “Jed” Copham epitomized how a life should be lived.

Educational Materials Center at library is growing, adding bilingual collection

Open to all, the popular center offers diverse, accessible resources and is ‘more than just books’

New scholarship to support first-generation early childhood education students

Donor Herwig hopes graduates become advocates and agents of change