Taylor Cullen joins the Chiswick family at Matt Moran’s Woollahra restaurant

There are sustainability-minded chefs…and then there is Taylor Cullen. This New Zealand-born chef literally has vegetable elixir running through his veins thanks to his living-off-the-land ethos. Taylor has risen to acclaim by specialising in local, seasonal, and sustainable produce, and turning the spotlight on vegetables, as megastars of the menu.

Taylor recently joined the Chiswick family at Matt Moran’s Woollahra restaurant and brought with him a passion for flavour and texture, and an undeniable talent for plant-based dishes. Taylor’s green fingers, which weave magic in both Chiswick’s extensive kitchen garden and restaurant, are busy transforming the menu to almost 60 per cent plant based. He is hoping to push this figure higher in future menus. As Chiswick’s new executive chef Taylor’s assignment gives him free rein on menu direction, while honouring the time-honoured staples of the Moran family-grown, slow-roasted lamb shoulder, Barra-masalata, and the acclaimed steak dishes. Taylor plans to make the restaurant as sustainable as possible with a no wastage, high plant-based focus underpinning the menu.

During the emerging stages of his plant-based journey, Taylor admits he treated vegetables more like proteins. However, Taylor’s instinctive delight in home-grown produce encouraged him to learn unique differences, characteristics, and merits of all-things vegetable. Taylor’s formative years in New Zealand and international kitchens sharpened his seasonal cooking skills, Bondi Harvest empowered him to feature both health and deliciousness in every meal, and Paperbark clinched his fervour for hyper-local, plant-sourced produce.

Testament to his plant-based artistry is Taylor’s debut Chiswick spring menu. It includes roasted peppers accompanied by Chiswick garden lemon; roasted fennel with Stracciatella and pickled citrus; and glazed eggplant, whipped tahini, puffed grains. Special mention must go to the 40kgs of carrots recently harvested from Chiswick’s kitchen garden and featured on Taylor’s Instagram page. These beautiful bundles of orange taproots were pickled for winter, and green oil made from the verdant tops. The oil currently seasons their spring dish: coffee roasted carrots with quinoa and shiitake.

There are more exciting dishes coming forth from the garden in the months to follow. Taylor says, ‘we just planted loads of coriander, will let it go to seed so we can pickle the green seeds, and take the roots for a really nice, fermented chili and coriander root sauce.’ In observance of his no-wastage ethos, the remainder of the plant will be turned into salt and oil. Taylor is currently overseeing the planting and nurturing of shiso-pumpkin, passion fruit, tomato, society garlic. And much like his carrot and coriander harvest, he will aim for a 100% sustainable harvest. ‘Basically, I try to grow things I can’t get, [and]I then think how to use the whole plant from these beautiful things.’

After each harvest Taylor only needs to walk a few metres into Chiswick’s kitchen. This must be the very definition of low food miles…or metres in its case. Once there the creativity begins. ‘One of my favourite techniques is to cook something, say beetroot, then let it dry in a warm place for around 12 hours. After that, I reintroduce its own liquid mixed with something to flavour it [such as]beetroot juice, a little vinegar and muscovado sugar, and reduce slightly. I then add the half-dried beetroot back to soak in all that flavour.’ Taylor also applies a similar process to things like cucumber, but given they are a soft vegetable he salts the cucumber to extract the liquid, rinses, dries, and soaks in vinegar and cucumber juice to make an interesting flavour and texture.

It’s fair to say that Chiswick and it’s 25sq m kitchen garden must be the envy of many an inner-city Sydney restaurant. This green oasis, part of Matt Moran’s Solotel group since 2012, features a pavilion style dining space, communal tables, a mixture of rustic and delicate décor, and floor to ceiling windows overlooking the green lawns of Chiswick Gardens. These windows also frame the bountiful kitchen gardens, connecting diners with a four-seasons landscape of produce. Matt Moran is an Australian pioneer of the ‘paddock to plate’ philosophy and is dedicated to his credo of: if it’s out of season, it’s not on the menu. Every dish at Chiswick now features elements from the on-site garden.

Taylor has certainly honoured his brief when joining Chiswick, by bringing more of the garden into the kitchen, and injecting spirit and soul into all the plant-based dishes. Taylor Cullen will highlight his spring harvest with Picnics on the Lawn, a Chiswick and Bombay Sapphire partnership that takes place over four Saturdays beginning mid-November (13 and 27 November; 4 and 11 December). Chiswick is open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner, and Taylor will be its helm for the next two years.