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Staff Stories: Mark Stembridge

DipEd (Technology Education), Dip Professional Cookery (Classical French)

Mentone Grammar Teacher, Mark Stembridge, has brought his love of cooking and passion for food into his role leading the dynamic Year 9 Greenways Café Program. After years of experience in the hospitality industry and as a Head Chef, Mark realised he wanted to share his wealth of culinary knowledge in the classroom. Since commencing at Mentone Grammar School in 2013, Mark has taught students invaluable skills in hospitality, food preparation, financial literacy, and operating a commercial kitchen. 

Mark grew up in the historical town of Ennis, Ireland. His home was filled with the sound of musical instruments and the laughter from sporting activities. “My Dad played in a local band and I learned the piano and drums, so music played a huge part of my life. I remember happy holidays at the beach, where the family swam all summer long, when the rain held off”. From just a young age, Mark also began a lifelong passion for playing sport. “Throughout my school years, I competed in swimming, played football, and was a 100m and 200m sprinter. Later on, I became the Captain of the Cloughleigh Celtic Soccer Club, which made it to the finals of the national tournament. This was a huge achievement for our small local club.” 

 Mealtimes were the heart of family life for Mark. “My Dad was a Chef, and my Mum was an incredible cook, so dinners were a joyous time of the day. We always ate our meals together; I truly believe this time helped foster the close relationship I still have with my family in Ireland. Years later, I have replicated this tradition with my wife and three kids in Australia. After a busy day for all of us, I treasure the time spent around the kitchen table, bonding with my family and enjoying a hearty meal.”    

After graduating high school, Mark followed his passion for food. He started working in banqueting at hotels, before fine-tuning his skills on the restaurant scene and quickly moving up the ranks to Head Chef. “I loved the fast-paced hospitality business. I felt at home setting up, running, and managing kitchens and staff.” 

However, as he was starting to form his own family, Mark felt the impacts of a busy life as a Chef. “A career as a Chef is really grueling on the body and family life. I was working long weeks of 60 to 80 hours, in pretty tough conditions. I missed being around my family and knew that I needed to make a change for the better.”   

 It took years of reflection for Mark to decide what new career path he would pursue. “I still wanted a career that involved food preparation and hospitality leadership. Looking for inspiration, I talked to my wife Bec, who is also an educator. We discussed what I enjoyed, and realised that being around people made me truly happy. I like interacting with others, and helping people feel good about themselves. With Bec’s encouragement, I realised that teaching was a way that I could inspire others, while still immersing myself in the cooking world.”   

Going back to study Technology Education was a big deal for Mark and his family. “Applying to go back to University, studying again, and embarking on a new career took me well out of my comfort zone. My parents thought I was mad to go back to square one and leave my career as an experienced Chef. But I knew that it was the right move. Teaching felt right.” In the first year of working in the Mentone Grammar Greenways Café program, Mark continued to work as a Head Chef at nights and on weekends. Admittedly, Mark found it daunting to let go of his life in the hospitality business; “I was so thrilled to be teaching at Mentone Grammar, the role was everything I’d hoped for, and more. However, I also thrived in the fast-paced environment of a restaurant kitchen.” As Mark grew more confident in the classroom, so did his realisation that he wanted to embrace his new life as a teacher. “The moment I made that decision, everything changed for the better. I started to see my family more, I committed to additional classes at the school, and I felt so accomplished every Friday, when I could see how far students had come in the Café program.” 

Since joining Mentone Grammar in 2013, Mark has channelled his jovial nature and exceptional skills into his role in the Greenways Café. His expert management has become an integral part of the Year 9 experience, which teaches students invaluable skills in running a small hospitality business. Students also leave the program with an accredited barista certificate and food handling qualification. After attending “approximately 58 barista courses since joining the school,” Mark proudly laughs that he might just be the most qualified barista in Melbourne.  

 “I love the interactions I have with the staff and students every day. It’s such a great culture at Mentone Grammar. I really enjoy chatting to people, and seeing what great things they are getting up to around the school. This job has given me such a sense of accomplishment. At the end of each week, I love congratulating the café students for what they have achieved. I think it is remarkable what they do, the volume of food and coffee students make and serve is huge. This is something I’m very proud of.”

 Author: Steph Kinnear

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