Female in a Male Dominated Industry – I Love The Challenge – Chef Taylor Shearman

“I love the sense of community within the kitchen”, says Taylor Shearman, executive chef at LUX, luxury Maldives resort in the North Malé Atoll, “though this career is not for the faint hearted!”

Taylor is also a “big lover of diving and the underwater world”, especially when she’s away from the pass. For this interview, we take a fearless deep dive, exploring her life and career in hospitality.

Nearly every chef who looks back through their career says a passion for cooking began in their parent’s kitchen. In Taylor’s case it was, “early in my teenage years, cooking and baking with my Grandmother any chance I could get”. Through high school, she would even work after school and weekends – on the cold larder section at Bannisters restaurant in her hometown of Mollymook, NSW.

I truly feel that it was here that I realised my own potential

Taylor took her first steps onto the career ladder when, aged 19, she decided to move to Sydney. “I started work at Merivale, 1 hat steakhouse under Christopher Whitehead, a humble, honest, and caring chef. It was here that the now, well-known Jacqui Challinor, was the senior on my section. We developed a very close friendship which continues to this day, both personally and professionally”.

Taylor headed next to Est Restaurant – 3 hat since 2003 – under chef Peter Doyle, widely regarded as a founding father of contemporary, Australian cuisine.

“I was able to refine my skills at Est (known for its classic French dishes) – and I truly feel that it was here that I realised my own potential, alongside some of the greats such as, Adam Wolfers (later, head chef at ‘Yellow’, Sydney) and Josh Niland (chef/owner of ‘Saint Peter’, fish restaurant)”.

Taylor completed her apprenticeship at Est, and heeding the call that most young chefs hear at this stage in their career, felt the “desire to experience something new”.

Looking after the private estate villas with many famous clients

Something very different for Taylor indeed, who packed her bags and headed out to the Turks & Caicos Island in the Caribbean. Here she took on the role of chef de partie at COMO, luxury boutique hotels and resorts. Soon enough – just three months to be exact – Taylor was promoted to head private chef/sous chef.

“I spent just over two years on the stunning island”, says Taylor, “looking after the private estate villas with many famous clients. I would personally handle their food requests and was actively involved in their entire vacations”.

It was also at this formative career stage that Taylor met two more ‘mentors’ – always important in helping young chefs develop their cooking experience and techniques. “COMO hotels and resorts had two amazing chefs, Amanda Gale and Daniel Moran, who have over the years passed on many life skills to myself as a young female chef. I will always value my time with them”.

Learning and practising life skills are all-important for chefs to help achieve and maintain a career in hospitality. “I have been in the industry for 15+ years”, says Taylor, “and I still find that every day I need to remind myself that my mental, physical and emotional needs are just as important, if not more than my ability to do my job. It has taken years for me to realise that working more and more hours to please everyone around me was not pleasing myself”.

Island life certainly appeared to be pleasing as Taylor moved from the Caribbean to a different COMO island location – the Maldives. To work at two of their properties on COMO Cocoa Island – and COMO Maalifushi, where Taylor was promoted to executive chef. She was also involved for a 6 month period in the opening of COMO The Treasury, in Perth, Australia.

With hard work comes personal growth as a chef

Then Taylor moved to another Maldives property – JOALI – owned by her next influential mentor, a Turkish lady called Esin Gural. Taylor describes Esin as ‘the definition of a female boss’, and an ‘inspiration to all females’.

“She was kind, honest, hard-working, determined, dedicated and strong – everything I take with me throughout my career, especially given that I have chosen to work in a male dominated industry, and in a very male dominated country when it comes to hospitality”.

Taylor looks back on some of the valuable lessons she has learned during her six years at COMO. “I have had to learn to adapt and be resilient – so much more then I ever thought I was capable of. Being a chef alone with the long days, constant pressure and working environment is hard enough, and on top of this, being a female in a male dominated country. But I love the challenge.

Every chef I have worked with has been very honest with me when they say that this career is not for the faint hearted! It requires hard work and a very special type of person to stick to it. They were not wrong. With hard work, however, comes personal growth as a chef and as a person. You find the ability from deep within yourself, and it’s 100 per cent worth it.

This career, industry and all the people I have met along the way, chefs, owners, GMs and guests – all have helped to mould me into the chef I am today”.

I love that I get to experience multiple cuisines throughout my career

Today, Taylor is executive chef at LUX, a luxury Maldives resort at North Malé atoll, “I’m thoroughly enjoying my time growing as a chef, manager and female within the industry”. Taylor currently oversees three restaurants – a Japanese Peruvian, a south east Asian/western restaurant, and a beach restaurant with a Mediterranean feel by day and a steak house by night.

“I love that I get to experience multiple cuisines throughout my career and work with different nationalities of chefs cooking food they love. I have 11 nationalities within my kitchen team at the moment and you are constantly learning, growing and developing even as the executive chef”.

Taylor recently changed the entire menu of the Japanese Peruvian restaurant along with the South American sous chef and team. “It was a big effort but the feedback from our guests since the menu change has been nothing but positive, and we are still on a high from the change”.

She also plans to increase the options for vegan/vegetarian cuisine – but with a twist. “I want people to not simply see it as ‘boring’ vegan/vegetarian food but to be something they wish to choose from the menu a few nights a week. I will also be trying to source a lot more local fish and seafood to increase our seafood options on all menus. I am surrounded by beautiful waters that can sustainably provide our guests many wonderful delights”.

I always strongly encourage my team to enjoy their days off

Sustainability – arguably, no bigger topic in the world today, not least in food and its journey from ‘field to  fork’. “We should only take what we need, not what we want – and sustainability should always be at the forefront of our minds. I always try to create any new items or dishes with sustainability and balance uppermost in my planning and preparation”.

Seeking ‘balance’ is also important to Taylor in handling the demands and stress of life on the pass. “The high-pressure environment of a kitchen, and the fine balance between doing what you feel is enough and managing your wellbeing is a very difficult balance to find. I always strongly encourage my team to enjoy their days off, take their breaks, and ensure they eat their meals at reasonable times. Something that is always difficult to do in the kitchen”.

Days off and time spent away from the pass are always important for a chef’s health and wellbeing. Many have found a particular sport or recreation provides a welcome release for mind, body and soul. Taylor has a special relationship with the sport of diving.

Diving, inner wellbeing and environmental sustainability

During her time with COMO, Taylor says she “fell in love with diving” and even took time off from the hospitality industry to explore the underwater kingdom, eventually becoming a certified PADI diving instructor.

“Diving, diving, diving and being in the water. This is one of the main reasons I love living and working in the Maldives. We are a tiny island in the middle of the ocean surrounded by a never ending ocean. There is so much underwater life to enjoy and explore. I have found that my passion for diving is one of the best activities I can do to manage my stress.  My current job involves always being on my phone, emails or in the kitchen. I find that when I go diving, I am able to step away from all of this and just be at peace underwater. I also love to travel when possible. Diving, eating and enjoying life brings me happiness.

Taylor also points out the vital relationship between inner wellbeing and environmental sustainability.

“Diving has given me a great appreciation of the underwater world and what it does for us as humans, particularly in how I can help to source sustainable products and support local communities.  I want to always be able to experience diving and the life underwater like I do now. I want future generations to be able to experience and feel in love with it, like I did.

The only way to preserve this is to ensure that we, as humans, maintain a forever growing relationship with the ocean. Its always give and take, as is everything in life. We must give back to the ocean more then what we take. Being a chef is all about ensuring we protecting all the species of aquatic life and only harvest fish as required”.

Taylor also takes the opportunity whenever she can to return home to Australia, “to see her family and friends”, adding, “enjoying the food scene in Australia is a love of mine!”

I love how chefs speak their own language and only other chefs understand

Creating a successful career from a passion for cooking presents its challenges. Often more so for a female in the world of the professional chef. But Taylor only has praise for the life it has given her.

“I love the sense of community within the kitchen, I love how chefs speak their own language and only other chefs understand. I love being very practical, hands-on, and involved from the start to finish of kitchen operations.

You imagine a dish in your head, then for weeks on end try to create it with your team around you until you are finally happy with it. We are perfectionists, so this will always take time, and you will question yourself many times. Then it will click and one day it will just work, and it will be everything you envisioned.

There is no feeling greater than finally taking your food out to the guests to see their reactions to weeks of your hard work. It all becomes worth it, all the long hours, the stress mentally, emotionally, and physically, it’s all worth it to know someone has enjoyed something you love to do”.

Nothing you do is too small, it all matters

As you might imagine from her career to date, Taylor has a wealth of advice and valuable insight for young aspiring chefs about to start their own career journey.

“I have taken lessons from each and every place I have been both professionally, personally, and there is always a way to learn and grow. No matter where you are or where you go there is always something to learn that will help you in your career.  Nothing you do is too small, it all matters. It’s always a step forward, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.

I think the most important advice I can give to young chefs is to ensure you find a balance in your work / personal life. I really wish I had found this earlier in my career. Always work on yourself as much as you work on your career. The two go hand in hand and are just as important as each other.

Always remember that not everything will be perfect as much as you try. However, keep trying and don’t give up because sometimes, it’s the imperfect things that become perfect in the end”.