When he was young and cooking at home with his mum and grandma, Nathan Tullis thought of becoming a chef. Hearing horror stories of the pressure and bullying in kitchens, however, quickly put an end to that plan.
Now, after short stints working as a labourer and periods of unemployment, Tullis has been given a chance to follow his dream in the supportive environment of CBD restaurant Aurora.
Part of the hi-tech performance and hospitality hub known as Light, Aurora has been established with the vision of offering staff structured training and development, a sustainable lifestyle and fair wages, while also running a successful business. It comes at a critical time for the industry when many eateries are struggling to attract and retain workers, as well as dealing with the impacts of Covid on both their employees and customers.
After getting his start washing dishes, Tullis began his chef’s apprenticeship a month ago.
“Being back there as a dishy, I had the chance to taste some of the cooking,” he says. “It was different to taste such a high standard of food and I really liked it. And I got to know a lot of the chefs really well and talked to them about the job. There is such good camaraderie.
“Now, coming in to work is something to look forward to and build on. If I don’t end up being a chef, at least I will come out with some good cooking skills.”
New head chef Sam Cooper is another success story. After coming from Tasmania for a job that fell through, he joined Aurora as a junior sous chef. Now he will be running the kitchen, as Brendan Wessels moves up to a more strategic role as executive chef.
“Within a few minutes, I knew I wanted to work here … that the cause was worthy,” Cooper recalls of his introduction to Aurora.
“There is a level of professionalism that you don’t see in kitchens very much any more. At the same time, we are trying to make it socially sustainable … with the correct support network so everyone feels comfortable to speak.
“This isn’t the old-style kitchen where fear and intimidation were the way to get back respect and obedience. Here we try and foster a tribe where we are developing and teaching new skills in a hospitality environment which is fair.”
Cooper hopes that the Aurora model could influence wider change in the industry but understands that they need to show “you can have these values and still be successful as a business”
Image by Brenton Edwards