Taylor Cullen was washing dishes at her household’s restaurant in New Zealand on the age of 11. When he turned 14, he was working within the pantry and getting ready. The hospitality child grew up in the midst of the trade with a father as a chef and a mom as a entrance desk whiz, which meant that he went from catering college to varsity (whereas working 40 hours per week on the restaurant ) was a well-recognized step however nonetheless thrilling.
Cullen has labored in nearly each sort of place through the years and has now settled into the place of head chef at Matt Moran’s Chiswick restaurant in Sydney’s jap suburbs. It’s right here that he’ll expertise his culinary spirit centered on greens due to the unique and plentiful backyard of the place.
The chef speaks with Hospitality about studying the ropes at Luxurious Lodges, placing paddock-to-plate into apply, and making your mark at a restaurant celebrating a decade in enterprise.
After finding out at catering faculty, Taylor Cullen landed a job alongside head chef Jane Tibble at Longitude 131°, outdoors Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa Nationwide Park within the Northern Territory. Cullen began out on the luxurious resort as a demi chef earlier than rising to chef de partie (CDP).
He then returned to New Zealand to work as a CDP at one other hostel, Blanket Bay within the South Island, for 2 years. “Lodgings are nice for cooks who need to learn to do all of it, because you cook dinner breakfast, lunch and dinner and cater to a variety of shoppers,” says Cullen. “It made me notice that I may work in breakfast locations, informal or tremendous eating.”
It was throughout this time that Cullen obtained a precious lesson from chef Corey Hume, who would form his method to cooking endlessly. “He taught me the best way to research,” says Cullen. “Whether or not it is by means of books or recipes from different cooks, he taught me the best way to break them down and put them in context so you are not copying and creating your personal recipes. It is one thing I will always remember.”
Creating a broad talent set got here in useful for the chef throughout his European travels together with his brother, each cooking in places in France, Spain, and Portugal. “I later moved to the USA and have become a non-public chef earlier than going to Costa Rica,” says Cullen. The chef later returned to Australia, becoming a member of the kitchen of the now-closed Bridge Room in Sydney below the course of Ross Lusted. “I used to be there for six months earlier than it closed after which the pinnacle chef job at Paperbark got here up.”
Paperbark was the town’s solely plant-based tremendous eating restaurant on the time (2018), and the venue is remembered for its progressive method of placing greens first when meat nonetheless dominated menus. Cullen labored on the Waterloo headquarters till he was given one other alternative overseas. “I went to Los Angeles and ran Bondi Harvest eating places and was about to open a spot in Milan, Italy, however COVID-19 got here on the flawed time,” he says. “We had been six days away from opening and I needed to go residence.”
World occasions resulted in Cullen’s return to Sydney and Ross Lusted’s cooking, with the chef taking a gig at Woodcut at Crown earlier than Solotel knocked on the door. “Through the subsequent lockdown, Chiswick known as and I used to be like, ‘Yeah, sweetie, let’s go.'”
In addition to a short stint shelling oysters and slicing sashimi at North Bondi Fish to increase a trip, becoming a member of Chiswick marked Cullen’s first time working for Solotel. However the restaurant was not uncharted territory for the Cullen household. “My brother and his accomplice have labored in Chiswick earlier than,” he says. “My brother and I might come right here yearly for our Christmas dinner, and I assumed it was a very cool neighborhood restaurant that is basically the closest factor to what I grew up with as a child.”
On account of restrictions, Cullen’s chef appointment final 12 months did not include the same old take a look at or group meet-and-greet. “I used to be producing a menu with out setting foot within the kitchen till it was a few weeks earlier than opening,” he says. “So, I simply jumped into the deep finish.”
Assuming the management place of a kitchen is difficult for a chef of any caliber, particularly with regards to producing menus that keep inside the parameters of a longtime venue and mirror a private cooking model.
However Cullen’s minimalist ideas dovetail naturally with the Chiswick ethos, which could possibly be described as rustic, home-cooked meals you’d eat at residence, however in all probability could not replicate. And whereas the chef performs by the principles, he has stayed true to his personal model with dishes that revolve primarily round greens.
“Chiswick was extra of a meat-and-three-veg sorting place, and we have actually pushed it to have extra plant-based choices,” says the chef. “It is extra sustainable and greens have such a variety; there are such a lot of cool issues you are able to do with them, and I need to present it to individuals.”
It is a notion mirrored in a pepper dish, which sees the greens roasted earlier than seasoning with fermented lemon juice and olive oil.
“We take away the lemons from the tree, salt them for per week, after which squeeze the entire fruit to get a cloudy, fermented lemon juice,” says Cullen. “It is little issues like taking a easy roasted pepper and creating a very fascinating taste profile. I method greens with the thought means of how we are able to make them as fascinating as doable whereas sustaining the integrity of all the ingredient.”
One other instance is a sea trout dish from the autumn menu, which was a nod to Cullen’s time with Ross Lusted. “He taught me that issues can burn with out burning, so we had a bit of sea trout that was seared skin-side down within the pan till charred,” says the chef.
The dish was paired with wood-fired cabbage drizzled with anchovy butter and garnished with nasturtiums and marigolds. “The cabbage was smoked and so plain subsequent to the fish, however so tasty. They’re at all times the easy ones”.
One of many perks of working in Chiswick needs to be getting access to Matt Moran, who greenlights each merchandise on the menu. “He assessments all the things out with six different individuals from Solotel and it is nice to get that suggestions,” says Cullen.
“Typically once you work for your self, you do not perceive that. He is blissful to offer credit score the place credit score is due or be fully trustworthy if a dish would not work out, which I actually like. Honesty can’t be neglected, it will be important.”
They are saying you do not have to do a lot once you’ve acquired nice produce, and the adage could not be extra related to Chiswick, which is likely one of the few eating places on the town with a vegetable backyard. It is a perk that gives infinite inspiration to Cullen, who spends plenty of time alongside resident groundskeeper Peter Hatfield.
“I at all times speak to Pete about what I would wish to plant and what’s rising,” says the chef. “It is not sufficiently big to help the entire restaurant’s greens, however we had 340kg of cherry tomatoes that we use over the summer time and we grew bronze fennel for a carpaccio dish. We develop plenty of herbs for the restaurant. After which it is about getting my cooks out within the backyard and educating them what I do know.”
Sharing data and cultivating a productive and motivating work atmosphere is essential to Cullen’s administration model and is one thing the group has extensively appreciated and responded to. In an trade affected by employees shortages, Cullen is effectively conscious of the challenges that include working a kitchen, which makes him admire the Chiswick brigade all of the extra.
“I used to be fortunate to be given such a strong group; we now have plenty of long-standing employees,” he says. “Chiswick is sort of a little household and folks keep, which is sweet.”
Recognizing arduous work and selling cooks is a part of wellness within the office and the outcomes converse for themselves. “The group works very arduous for me as a result of they see [the situation] like, ‘This particular person gave me an opportunity,’ and it is actually essential to nurture these individuals,” he says.
“I am extra laid again than the cooks I’ve labored for; I am attempting to create a group atmosphere with out the hostility of old skool kitchens. Saying that, I realized loads in these kitchens, so I am torn that you simply’re within the trenches, however Chiswick is not actually like that. Folks fortunately present as much as work, and I’ve discovered that you simply get the identical outcomes should you sit somebody down and have a dialog about how she’s doing and why she’s making errors as an alternative of yelling at her throughout service.”
Cullen not too long ago reached the seven-month mark of his Chiswick tenure, and the itchy-footed chef was dedicated to round two-and-a-half years when he accepted the function. “I hope to return to New Zealand and open a hostel on a farm in the midst of nowhere,” he says. “It can have greenhouses, beehives, animals, and it’ll present 85 p.c of its personal meals; doing that could be a chef’s dream.”
In the meantime, Cullen goes by means of the ups and downs that include Chiswick, who celebrated his tenth birthday final month with a throwback menu. “The employees advised me all of their favourite dishes through the years, so I modified them to swimsuit my cooking model,” she says. “I am centered on Chiswick for the subsequent 12 months and a half after which I will be working with individuals in New Zealand. It is nice to know the place you are going and have a objective.”