Steve Nordlund, 47, is owner with fellow former soldier Mark Graham, also 47, of new Swindon cafe Brogans in Havelock Square. He has been married for a decade to Linda, who he met in her native Norway, and is a
father-of-four. He lives in Wiltshire
ONCE you’ve had to dive for shelter while IEDs rain through your kitchen ceiling, catering holds few terrors.
Steve Nordlund experienced this rare kitchen hazard in South Armagh in about 1986, when terrorists launched rockets improvised from 180lb gas canisters at a British Army base.
“The kitchen we were working in was mortared,” he said. “The improvised devices were fired in through the glass roof and destroyed everything. That brings it home to you – when you’re under a table hearing them whistling in.”
Like many chefs, he has some handy hints for the less experienced, including what to do if you happen to find yourself catering for a large group of diners in a desert. Somewhere in Afghanistan, perhaps, or Kenyas’s Rift Valley. Steve has cooked successful meals in both locations.
“The biggest challenge is to make sure that the food isn’t going to harm anybody in the heat because, as you can imagine, the facilities for keeping things chilled are quite minimal. There should be a good variety of produce, whether it’s sourced locally or it’s the typical ration packs that the Army carry with them.”
And if you happen to find yourself doing some catering north of the Arctic Circle? Luckily, Steve’s done that, too, in Norway.
“If it comes in frozen and it’s still frozen at air temperature, you have to think of ways to defrost things and prevent them from freezing up.” Apparently lagging helps, but things can still be a bit tricky when it’s cold enough to freeze eggs in their shells.
Steve is originally from the seaside community of Brixham in Devon. He is the oldest of six siblings, four of them girls. His father worked in shipbuilding while his mother brought up the large family.
As often happens, he found his vocation by chance.
“I was very sporting as a child and I really wanted to do something along the lines of that. I joined the Army at 16.”
Steve’s aim was to be a physical training instructor, but that branch of the Army doesn’t accept recruits younger than 18.
“It’s not something you can join straight away. You have to transfer from another branch. I looked down a list of other branches and thought ‘That looks easy - I’ll do that for a couple of years.’”
What he’d chosen was the Army Catering Corps, later to become part of the Royal Logistic Corps. It turned out to be anything but easy, and set him on a 24-year global odyssey of military bases, war zones and trouble spots.
As well as the British mainland and Northern Ireland, he’s served in the old West Germany, Turkey, Macedonia, Sierra Leone, the US, the Falklands, Tanzania, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Greece and countless other locations.
His experiences range from the dangerous to the fascinating to the poignant. In Macedonia in 1999 he was part of the peacekeeping force sent the former Yugoslavian republic to prevent the war in Bosnia-Hercegovina from spilling over the border. “The main problem is moving around. If you’re on a base you have security.
“If you tend to go from one base to another, that’s when the harsh reality hits you that you’re in a dangerous place.”
Another posting involved cooking for a general and VIPs connected to the Defence College in Shrivenham, while still another saw him assigned to the US Army for six months, teaching advanced culinary skills at Fort Lee in Virginia. He helped to guide its chefs to success in a prestigious culinary arts competition run by the American National Restaurant Association in Chicago.
Steve left the Army in 2005, and joined forces with fellow former Royal Logistic Corps Warrant Officer Mark Graham to found Brogan’s, which is named after Mark’s daughter.
The ethos is high quality food at ‘greasy spoon’ prices, and it seems to be paying off at the new Swindon location just as it has in Devizes and Trowbridge.
Customers soon notice the emphasis on fair trade produce, something influenced by the men’s previous work in some of the world’s poorest countries.
“The best thing you can do for the farmers there is buy their produce for a fair price instead of ripping them off.”