One thing that Karlo Taylor – head chef at The Chelsea in Belfast – can’t be accused of is a lack of enthusiasm for his chosen profession…
Karlo Taylor has known since he was 15 and washing dishes in the kitchens at The Templeton hotel, Templepatrick, that he wanted to work in hospitality.
Acting on those aspirations, he left school in his hometown of Antrim and went to nearby Ballymena to study NVQ levels one and two in catering, eventually transferring to the former College of Business Studies in Belfast.
By the time he was 16, he was studying full-time and working a 40-hour week in The Templeton:
“It was very tough but I loved every single minute of it,” he recalls. “Even when I was washing dishes, I just enjoyed the craic in the kitchen. I knew I was in the job I wanted and I just kept at it.”
Eventually, Karlo was promoted to the grill bar at The Templeton during the hotel’s heyday in the 1990s:
“It was really busy place, 100 meals on a weekday, 300 on a Saturday, it was flat to the mat, but I was learning all the time,” says Karlo.
Ultimately, however, Karlo began to feel that he wasn’t learning quickly enough and so he made the move to Belfast in 1998 and a post at the original Tedford’s where veteran restaurateur, Tony O’Neill was head chef. After about a year, he took the post of chef de partie at the former Crescent Townhouse. By the time he’d turned 25, he had been promoted to head chef.
“It was a lot of pressure, but at the time, I was coming up with a lot of really nice, innovative dishes and the manager, Michael O’Neill, said to me that he felt I was ready for the responsibility. So I went for it and I can honestly say, I’ve never looked back,” adds Karlo. “With freedom to create my own dishes, I really started to get results and the place was pumping.”
Karlo stayed at the Townhouse for a decade, eventually moving to Cutters’ Wharf in 2009 as head chef. He stayed there for a couple of years and then agreed to transfer over to The Chelsea in order to streamline its food offering:
“It was undergoing renovation at the time and they approached me to see if I would move over and just lift the food offering up a bit.
“They wanted everything home-made, they were looking for top quality, lots of local produce and so on and that’s what we’ve done.”
As for the most challenging aspect of his job, Karlo says that while he has few problems in the kitchen, he finds looking after the team a little more daunting.
“Just keeping everyone happy and everything moving forward is the hardest part of all this,” he adds. “It’s a big part of the job, but I really love what I’m doing.”
Looking at the hospitality sector generally, Karlo sees vast improvements in the offering over the last 10 to 15 years or so:
“The standard has gone through the roof, everywhere is so busy and it’s very exciting to see that. One of my hobbies is actually going out to have something to eat and seeing what everyone else is doing, they different food they’re cooking, getting inspiration from other chefs and then coming back here and doing my own thing.”
As for ambition, Karlo thinks that ultimately, he’d like to open his own place, perhaps a café or a restaurant in his home town of Antrim:
“It’s a really up-and-coming town and I’d like somewhere close to home,“ he says. “I think my own place would be a modern experience, not fine dining, there are enough restaurants like that in Belfast and I don’t think Antrim is ready for that just yet. I just want to do good, modern cooking, the sort of thing we are already doing for our customers here at The Chelsea.”