The Latch has partnered with Set For Life to spotlight incredible Australians who are pursuing hobbies, side hustles and passions that feed their souls and enhance their lives. All our “Lifers” have the same thing in common: they’ve followed their dreams down a path to find true fulfilment.
From washing dishes to running entire sections of a family restaurant all before he was an adult, Taylor Cullen knew early on that the kitchen was where he belonged. Cullen realised soon enough that school wasn’t for him, but the camaraderie and sense of purpose he found in the restaurant very much was. Fast forward to today, and he’s the head chef of Sydney’s iconic Chiswick Woollahra restaurant.
But the road to his success wasn’t without its challenges, and new ones present themselves all the time. However, Cullen is a perfect example of how keeping your mind and heart locked onto your passion can eventually lead to your career blossoming.
We spoke with Cullen about his dedication to his passion, how it helped him to thrive in his professional life and how surrounding himself with passionate people was key.
You’ve been working in restaurants for most of your life. Was it clear early on that this is what you wanted to do full-time as a career?
Yes, I started washing dishes as a child, a couple of hours a week for pocket money. By the time I was a teenager, I was running the larder section of our small family restaurant. The kitchen spoke to me — while on shift I was treated like an adult, and the staff were like family.
I’d then go back to school on Monday and feel completely out of place when things didn’t resonate with the way I learnt. School isn’t necessarily for everyone — occasionally, it can be like they’re judging a fish on its ability to climb a tree! Once I got to catering college, it just solidified my drive for a career as a chef.
What were some of the challenges you faced reaching the point of your career you’re at today?
In the beginning, the challenges were the hours worked, learning the basics, understanding the fundamentals of flavour, balancing a life, staying fit, and learning to be tidy and quick while remaining precise.
The higher you go, it all starts to translate into team management, admin, supplier relationships and many more. There are so many stepping stones of progression, I’ve faced so many and still every day am learning amazing lessons about kitchens and our industry.
Now you’ve landed your dream job, what would you tell your past self about the journey and process it took to get there?
I’m still telling myself the same thing: keep pushing forward and send each dish as though it’s for someone you love. It’s pretty cliché, but with hard work, a good attitude and passion you’ll go a long way. Cutting corners will only leave you disappointed in yourself.
Breathe, exercise, push yourself physically and mentally, and never lose that curiosity to learn.
What are some misconceptions people might have about reaching their dream job in the culinary industry?
That being at the top is just putting pretty things on a plate — there’s so much on your shoulders when you’re the head chef of a restaurant. It is hard work, but if you are diligent and smart about it, it will be very rewarding.
Another misconception is that once someone’s at the top, they’ve learnt everything — there is so much to learn, always.
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned about yourself throughout your career?
Focusing on myself in times outside of work, like having a good exercise routine. Additionally, spending time with the people I care about makes me happier and a much more creative and loving chef while at work.
What have you found the most rewarding part of turning your passion into a business?
Every day I go to work enjoying what I do — I couldn’t think of anything better.
You stress the importance and benefits on buying local, using native ingredients and even foraging for food. Do you think this passion helped your success?
For sure! Passion and drive are infectious, and then sharing a little knowledge inspires people to follow suit.
What’s your best advice for being ‘Set For Life’?
Build a community of like-minded people around you, because things shared are that much more enjoyable.