BOOKPLATE head chef Natalie Schultz on following your heart


"I don't fear failure. Our motto is that there is no failure."

Being a chef is hard work. Long hours on your feet, managing intricate kitchen ecosystems and plating up sometimes thousands of meals every week can lead to high stress levels.

But, for BOOKPLATE head chef Natalie Schultz, it's her passion for food and service that makes it all worthwhile. Having been with BOOKPLATE since its very beginning – nearly 15 years – Natalie shares some insights about her life as a chef.

Where it all began

Growing up on a farm in South Australia, the second eldest of seven children, Natalie discovered a passion for food at a young age.

"My Oma lived with us on the farm, and food was always such a big part of our family life," says Natalie. "It was all about whatever was in season, and we kept all our own animals. We even traded produce and meat with neighbouring farms."

While inspired by her mother and Oma at home, Natalie really discovered an enjoyment of cooking in high school during home economics classes. She describes her foray into the world of food a "natural progression".

"I love eating food, and making food. I think it also comes from just being an organised person – it's just the type of person I am."

The journey so far

After completing her training through South Australia TAFE, for over 12 years, Natalie worked as a sous chef under a male head chef, who she says had a more old-school approach.

"At that time, it was like 'I'm the head chef and this is what we're doing'," she says. "I'm more collaborative – for me, it's all about the team effort. I like to get input from everyone. It's about building relationships. There's a flow-on effect of being a good leader – people will tend to go the extra mile for you when they feel appreciated and respected."

Natalie also recently completed a certificate in Baking and Patisserie at the Canberra Institute of Technology.

"As a chef, I never stop learning."

On being a female head chef

Natalie feels she has been lucky in the opportunities she has had, and doesn't dwell on her unique position as a woman in a male-dominated industry. But when asked if she has faced any challenges as a female chef, she says that if anything she feels that women are less likely than men to promote themselves.

"Men and women are different, we're bred differently. I believe the expectations are different...men are expected to be leaders, and so are offered more opportunities. They're more likely to put their hand up and ask for a promotion, whereas women tend to stand back a bit."

Inspiration and influences

Natalie says she draws inspiration from those around her, particularly her family, who she says drive her to be a better person, and her team in the kitchen at BOOKPLATE. She is also spurred on by the customers of BOOKPLATE, especially the ones who return time and again.

Finally, she looks to boss Tracy Keeley, Managing Director of BOOKPLATE, describing her as "a breath of fresh air".

"Tracy is constantly pushing herself, and that is inspiring for me. I feel supported and I don't fear failure. If something doesn't work out, we just pick up and try again, or try something different. Our motto is that there is no failure."

The perfect meal

For Natalie, the perfect meal is not so much about the food (although of course, her standards in this area are high!). For her, a meal shared with family, in an easy and relaxed environment with plenty of laughter, is the definition of perfection. Also...any meal that ends with cake is a good one!

Words of advice for young aspiring chefs

If there's anything Natalie could tell a young person starting out on their journey as a chef, it's this: follow your heart and passion, and believe in yourself.

"Don't be afraid to dive in headfirst," she says. "Read a lot, and be inspired by some of the great Australian chefs – Stephanie Alexander is one example that stands out."

"It's hard work. But with passion you'll get through it. It's not going to be easy. You're on your feet most of the day, and there can be a lot of pressure and stress. But you need to learn to deal with it."

In the end, it seems, passion is the key ingredient. And Natalie has it in spades.

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BOOKPLATE is located at the National Library of Australia, Canberra ACT, Australia