Born and bred in the heart of the highlands Eilish stumbled upon the hospitality industry at the bright young age of 17. She completed her apprenticeship in her hometown, Moss Vale, before needing to spread her wings and fulfil the lust for travel, adventure and freedom.
The journey began in Sydney under the watchful eye of Jacqui Challinor (current head chef of Nomad and now lifelong mentor and friend) and proved to be a significant lifestyle change from working at quaint, quiet regional restaurants to million dollar fitouts, big personalities and demanding hours.
In Sydney Eilish – a short 19 year old female misfit – found herself battling to be noticed in a male-dominated brigade of 15-20 chefs.
After 18 months at Nomad, Eilish took the plunge and purchased a one way ticket, packed her bags and set off on a solo trip around the globe, travelling through South East Asia and Europe.
“It was like nothing I expected. The cultures, the history, the food. It was so unfamiliar yet I was so content, so at home. My understanding of food changed the moment I left Australia and has never been the same since.”
Finding her way to London, Eilish began working for the two-Michelin-starred restaurant The Ledbury, which is ranked one of the best in the world and is owned and run by a fellow Australian Brett Graham.
“I’d trialled at a few places across the city, but Brett really left such a big impression on me; I was utterly blown away with every inch of that kitchen.”
Eilish spent two years working at The Ledbury, pushing and grinding to the limits to run with the best and understand what it takes to be at the top.
“It was a bittersweet farewell, when my working visa came to an end. Brett was such a big mentor and I formed such strong relationships with people who surrounded me there. I wasn’t ready to go but life certainly had its plans.”
It was in London, Eilish says, where she really ‘grew up’.
“London was where I came to understand what truly matters to me and what part I could play. For that, London will always be home to me, just as much as the Southern Highlands is … just on a slightly different scale.”
From London, Eilish went on to work at a pop-up one-star restaurant in South Africa, a two star restaurant in Sweden and cooked countless meals for new friends all over that side of the globe.
Returning home to Australia in 2017, Eilish set her sights on fish and joined the team at Saint Peter Paddington under the watchful eye of Joshua Niland.
“It’s funny when you come home from working abroad – everyone wants to find out where you worked because every chef has their eyes set on certain restaurants. The Ledbury was very well known and therefore expectations were set high,” she says. “But stepping into Saint Peter, I felt like an apprentice again but, wow, to be in a position to learn everything and anything about Australian seafood from the ground up – what a privilege.”
Eilish says she only ever intended on staying at Saint Peters for a year or so to hone vital skills and move on. But Josh Niland had other plans and encouraged her to work alongside him as head chef for another 12 months.
While juggling the responsibilities in Sydney, Eilish returned home to do various pop ups around the Southern Highlands; launching a summer series event based in Kangaroo Valley showcasing the local produce and talent in the region.
Stressed and a little burnt out, by early 2019 Eilish realised it was time for another change.
“I felt I needed to step away, get out of the city and return to the roots of all my focus,” she says. “It was never intended to be a 12 months trip but the universe continued to gift me with incredible moments – and that’s when The What If Society seed sprouted. There was no turning back after that.”