For some people, it’s the way someone smiles. Others, it’s how they handle a fast car, or know their way around a kitchen.
On her first nights’ trial for a job in Noosa, Tara was paired with Chris on larder duty. He taught her how to shuck oysters.
That was when she had an inkling, an idea about what her future might hold. That’s when she thought maybe, this is the man for me.
Seven years and two children later, they run a successful business back in Tara’s home town of Gunnedah. They are proud of what they’ve built together, but they both know they couldn’t have done it anywhere else – with anyone else – and certainly not without the support they’ve had. It’s taken hard work, more hard work than expected, to get where they are today.
Both chefs by trade, Tara grew up in a big family and Chris is an only child. The pair similarly started the first year of their apprenticeships in Gunnedah and Gympie respectively, but moved to finish them in Noosa.
Noosa had the appeal of being a great destination for aspiring chefs, hosting the Annual Food and Wine Festival, and being the hub of food in the late ‘90’s and early 2000. It was also the best spot to learn from others who’d bought their own unique style of food to show off, with Chris adding that “it was a good melting pot of cooks and chefs”.
The couple quickly figured they could soak up a lot of experience in Queensland, but their real dream lie in having their own business. As Chris deftly puts it, having your own place is the top of the game in hospitality, and Tara agrees, saying that it’s the best place to showcase what you can do as a chef.
Not long after their first daughter was born, Chris and Tara realised how much extended family life Hazel would miss out on with all the travelling. They certainly loved the coast, but it was no place to settle with a family, and even less so to get a business started, at least the way they wanted. And if there was any time to make a move, they knew it was then.
They set about looking for the perfect spot to make their own. Gunnedah wasn’t their first choice; they originally hoped the Hunter Valley might offer a place they could take on, as it’s always been full of great restaurants and has a wonderful atmosphere.
But better options were to come their way. When one business in Gunnedah came up for sale, they saw that is wasn’t quite suited to them, but Jack and Jill’s was. They trekked down to visit the premises, signed the contract, and were back home packing in the blink of an eye. Sure that they’d found their niche, they set imbuing it with their own personal style.
And the business has thrived; Tara and Chris make a matchless team, combining work and personal life in balance.
But is it risky, what they do? Putting your whole life into one endeavour, waging your money, your career, your family – and possibly your sanity – into doing what you love?
They certainly think so. Tara admits that working in hospitality means being passionate about food, and after that it’s about passion for the industry and passion for the lifestyle. But you have to live it, Chris adds. Once you have a business of your own, you can’t just hang up your apron and switch off for a few days, you have no choice but to be involved, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
That takes commitment, not just to the business, but to the person you go on that adventure with, including all the ups and downs that certainly comes along besides. You have to trust your partner, and have faith that they have your back every moment of the way.
“We do all our fighting at work”, Chris says with a laugh, adding that he always kisses Tara and tells her goodnight every day, and that they try to eat dinner together as often as possible. It’s about the things you do to make it work.
“Is it worth it? Hopefully. Do we have balance? Maybe. But we have a lot of help”. The couple admit that they couldn’t do this anywhere else, and that extended family and friends have played a big role in making their lives what they are.
After compromising with their daughters, it’s important to Chris and Tara that they keep that balance they have worked so hard for. But it’s not always just toiling hours without a light at the end of each day.
“Customer satisfaction,” Tara says instantly,” I like that people like what we do, it’s really fulfilling. And giving people the opportunity to learn”. She admits that leaving Gunnedah to finish her apprenticeship wasn’t necessarily what she wanted, but with no other chefs in town, there wasn’t really anyone for her to learn from.
Being able to watch young kids, 14 to 19 year olds, come through their place and learn some life-long skills contributes to making the effort worthwhile.
The downside? “The hours”, the duo confirms instantly. You never really switch off, you don’t call in sick if you’re not feeling up to it, and you’re always living it, they reaffirm.
That’s where they know they have found their perfect match in each other; someone who wants the same life, has the same goals, and dreams the same dreams. Because putting your whole world into something like this, working every day for it, isn’t for everyone. It takes a special kind of person, a special bond, to make it work.
Was it love at first sight? Definitely, Chris says without blushing. Tara, the more extroverted of the two, demurely says she knew she was interested after that night he taught her to shuck oysters. Sometimes you just know.
The romance certainly isn’t missing for the couple, even with all the hours they put into their business. Chris, quietly smiling as Tara tells the story, whisked them away to the Hunter Valley this year to show her, through all the hard work they do, that he still thinks of her as his one and only – and proposed.
“We went to Amanda’s on the Edge for dinner, and stayed in a little cabin nearby. I was waiting on the verandah, and he came out…with a ring, got down on one knee…” Tara giggles as she recalls that it was a public holiday, the only time they could get off, and their first time away from the kids. Chris then took her for a hot air balloon ride at 4am the next day, high above the (Hunter Valley) Gardens. Chuckling, Tara confesses that they were going to go for lunch after such an exciting morning, but instead slept half the day.
As you watch the couple tell their story, you feel a sense of ease and real connection. Here are two people who’ve found their – dare we say it – soulmate, and are happily living the life they always aspired to.
Tara loves how her quiet man is affectionate and romantic, how hard he works and how much he loves their girls. Chris, though shyer to announce things out loud, loves how Tara makes him feel and how happy he is with her.
Some days are always going to be better than others, and some days the tension in their kitchen is best left for the couple to work through alone, but they are unfailingly committed to each other. Listening to them, you’re left with that warm, fuzzy feeling a good love story always leaves you with.
Any big plans? “Day off” chirps Tara, which is a fair call with their heavy load. However, the couple very much look forward to working even further in fulfilling their dream; creating a life of balance for themselves and their girls.
Work. Love. Balance. Living what you dream.
Laura Meade, January 2018