E13 Caroline Taylor – Creative Food, Nourishing Culture

Back of House, Front of Mind

“Back of House, Front of Mind” is a podcast presented by Healthy Mind Menu, an industry-led initiative that aims to improve the lives and normalise conversations around mental health for those working in the hospitality industry.

Welcome, Caroline Taylor

Caroline Taylor is a Chef, Presenter, and Hospitality Consultant with 20 years of experience in the industry. Opening her first restaurant at age 20, Swan Valley Institute Taylor’s Art and Coffee House, trained by Restranteurs Kate and Fiona Lamont, Caroline creates tasty and accessible recipes showcasing quality WA produce for the home cook.

A regular contributor to ABC ‘Perth Foodie’ segment, 6PR, and a presenter on Channel 9 hit show ‘Our State on a Plate’, Caroline aims to lift the profile of our hardworking farmers any chance she can.

Caroline’s work as a consultant sees her training hospitality owners to run their businesses more confidently, improving their menus, and building relationships with local growers. Venues include Hylin-West Leederville, Mataya Mandurah, The Mangrove (Broome), Tradewinds (Fremantle), Hotel Rottnest, Karratha International Hotel, and HomeRun Mt Hawthorn.

As a promotional Chef Caroline has featured at Perth Good Food and Wine Show, WA Day Festival, Parliament House- Canberra, Swan Valley Expo – Singapore, Gourmet Escape, and the Gascoyne Food Festival.

Recently Caroline has taken on the challenging role of Mum, raising her young son with a partner and Chef Rohan Park- Old Young’s Kitchen, Swan Valley.

Tell us how you spend your days.

I work multiple jobs so my days can be quite varied, like most people these days, but they always start with my son waking me up with “It’s morning time!”. Coffee is my first port of call, followed by breakfast for my son and getting him ready for daycare or kindy.

If it’s a day I’m filming or doing a cooking demo at an event, a full face of makeup must be applied begrudgingly and then it’s off to pack the car with all the ingredients and cooking equipment. Get to the site and unload, memorise a script, or go through the day’s proceedings in my head and then get on with it.

Perform, pack down and get home, pick up Bub, prep dinner for him and Rohan, and try to get to bed by 10 pm at the latest, I would happily be in bed by 8 pm though. Generally, I will always try and get to the gym at least 4-5 times a week and make sure I’ve done my meal prep.

Consulting days are different and my normal job at Wines of WA is different again, but they are both a bit more usual I suppose.

Can you tell us about your career and how you got to where you are today?

I started at Feral Brewing Company when it first opened and I was 19, I’d just left the horse world and I couldn’t believe I was getting paid $22 per hour to pour beer and talk to people!? I used to get paid $250 per week to work 6 and a half days so it was quite the turn of events for me.

My brother was in the process of turning our old family home, come gallery, into a cafe and after my amazing experience with the hospo world I said I’d help him out. I worked front of house until I was 22 and decided to jump in the kitchen after we couldn’t find a chef to cook the food we wanted, this was in the mining boom of 2005 so it was hard to compete with their wages.

After 11 years and having the same fight with my brother for as many years, I decided it was time to move on, it was a really tough time but I had a fantastic opportunity to work in hotels improving their menus and building moral in remote WA. I also helped smaller hospitality operators with their operations too. Amongst this all I kept doing media work promoting small growers and I still do that, I have made the transition out of the kitchen since having a child which I’m very grateful for.

Explain the reasons why mental well-being has become important to you. 

It became massively important when my brother was diagnosed with a mental health disorder and I couldn’t connect with him any longer, we were always very close so it was important to me to change the way I spoke so as not to set him off all the time. Incidentally, it also helped me manage my staff and their issues and create a safe working environment. Boundaries were just as important to set and we were able to implement some mental health processes in the workplace to empower everyone to take it as seriously as their physical health.

How do you prioritise self-care and balance it with other responsibilities in your life?

My partner and I have different sleep patterns, which was actually very helpful when our son was super young. He would love it if I stayed up longer so it is hard to get to bed on time, but I notice how grumpy I get when I don’t get enough sleep so everyone around suffers if I don’t get enough. I always used to let my health slip whenever work got busy, but these days I prioritise my health as it’s so inextricably linked to my work performance and creativity.

Can you tell us about a person who has had a significant impact on your life?

There’s been a heap of people that have affected my life in a positive way, but in this conversation, I’ve had a couple of significant books that really changed my mind and behaviours. The Road Less Travelled by Gregory Peck, The Power of Now by Echart Tolle, and The Drama of Being a Child were probably the most profound and led to big breakthroughs in my life and better habits.

What is something you’re currently working on that you’re excited about?

Well, I was pretty chuffed to have the Minister for Tourism single me out as a key person to help advise and shape an event in the Swan Valley. I’ve just finished filming for the latest season of Our State on a Plate and I’m getting ready to run a kid’s cooking class at the Brunswick Junction Ag Show.

If you could simplify your philosophy on life, how are you living? What do you tell yourself each morning when you wake up?

I say yes a lot and I used to get really overwhelmed with all the jobs I had in front of me, I now say to myself ‘There’s only so much you can do ‘It’s only food’ ‘It’s not the end of the world’.

How do you approach goal setting and achieving success?

Small goals, write them down, visualise it, keep at it, and don’t run yourself down if you have a fail.

How do you inspire wellbeing in those around you?

Usually, role modeling has been my best way of effecting change in others, but it really hasn’t helped with my partner, I’ve been going to the gym for years now and he’s not following!! I really focus on getting people to participate regardless of talent or expertise, just get involved and try it out.

What does healthy hospitality mean to you?

Hospitality is such an important part of our society, it’s absolutely vital that we keep this industry alive and well. It unfortunately has a long history of self-destructive behaviour as a right of passage. It’s hard to be serving people beautiful food and wine or cocktails all day and then not want to indulge in that yourself, but when you’re working in it all the time it’s hard to switch that off.

I remember being so surprised when I started working in an office environment part-time and seeing the same bottle of wine living in the fridge and not getting drunk for a whole year?!?! So if we want to see hospitality thrive in the future with our new outlook on life and people wanting a work/ life balance we are really going to have to consider what needs to change for our hospitality workers.

Things like appropriate language in the workplace, healthy culture building team activities that aren’t getting shitfaced on a boat. To be honest this would be the same situation in Mining, Nursing any of the industry where it’s taxing on the body.

Tell us about your organisation and what you do.

I work for Wines of WA as my normal job and have transitioned into comms, marketing, and admin I love dealing with the different regional associations and getting involved with all their events and businesses.

My consulting business gives me great satisfaction, especially when things go right and it starts to click with the owners or chef about how it all works, when you first start with them it’s like they have blinkers on and then it’s hard for a bit and then finally it all makes sense which is really great to be a part of.

My media jobs are also really satisfying too, with the stage cooking demos at events, presenting on tv and radio, and hosting cooking classes for kids and adults.

it’s nice to have a mix of all three. I think if I just did one I would probably be really anxious as you would have to hustle quite hard to keep the media and consulting going full-time. and they all satisfy a need. It has taken a long time to get used to the office environment though that’s for sure.

How can training benefit individuals who work in various sectors, such as hospitality?

Any type of emotional intelligence training is well advised, getting people to recognise when they are in need of a breather or when they’re not fit to come to work is so important. Giving staff tools to calm down their nervous systems before entering service and then again after a big day, without having to hit the bottle or whatever too hard.

Drinking a heap of water before having a drink and putting any barriers between you and your vices so that you can calm down before you switch off.

For someone who suspects that a friend, family member, or colleague may be struggling, what advice or steps would you suggest they take to approach the situation in a supportive and non-judgmental way?

Check-in when the situation is calm, not in the middle of service, trying when there are not people around, and using non-violent communication like: ‘You seem a bit different, are you ok, is there anything you want to talk about? all good if it’s not the right time now, always here for a chat.

Not trying to fix someone instantly, recognising that it’s a long road and you don’t always have the answers so just listen.

Could you share some resources for our listeners who want to improve their health and well-being?

Non Violent Communication‘, is another great book that really changed the way I approached conversations and challenging situations, especially in the heat of service.

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Let’s make sure mental health is always on the menu!

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