A passion project: Nat Taylor of Milk Haus

Photography by Harriet Davidson
Words & Interview by Harriet Davidson

At 7am she’s out in the vegetable garden, at 7pm she’s likely at one of the community’s intimate wine bars, and in between? Well, she’ll be at the pass relaying a recipe to questioning customers or giggling away with the bright-eyed young woman running the food, all whilst plating her vibrant dishes from the current season’s menu. And all with endless passion. Meet Nat Taylor, head chef and one half of the couple who took over Milton’s café-restaurant, Milk Haus, along with her partner and floor queen, Kitty Stidwill. If selling up in Sydney, buying a house on the South Coast and taking over an already much-loved restaurant during a pandemic doesn’t sound somewhat daunting, let it be known that neither of these passionate women had once worked in the hospitality industry. Four years later and they’ve taught themselves everything they know – with the occasional advice from a very supportive community – about running a kitchen, growing your own food and running a wonderfully popular eatery. And it’s busier than ever.

We visited Nat and Kitty at the converted cheese factory sitting just five minutes out of Milton, in amongst rolling green hills dotted with black and white cattle. We pottered in the restaurant as Nat made her harissa roasted eggplant from her current menu – a recipe she’s shared with the Journal – before we pottered through the garden. We spoke with Nat about her journey into food after 25 years in the corporate world – a story bursting with lessons in making a change and following the heart, and it seems they’ve only just started writing their life-in-food story with exciting plans ahead. These women are remarkable, and we suggest that next time you’re on the South Coast, you pay them, and the world they’ve created, a visit.

This cosy setting at Milk Haus is complete with our 100% Linen Table Cloth in Natural

On Nat’s food story …

Indeed, not the usual story. My partner and I decided to leave our corporate 25-year professions in mid-2020, during the first wave of COVID-19. A bold decision, but we had always dreamt of running a business together by way of ‘life after corporate’, but it had to be the right opportunity that was meaningful for us and in the right location. I was a sales director of one of the largest print communications companies in Australia – my life consisted of airports, hotels, meetings, sales pitches but most of importantly, hospitality, just from the other side of the pass. A big part of sales is relationships, and for me, most of them were formed over dining, a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.

On making a change …

We felt living in Sydney we had everything on our doorstep, but we were part of the rat race that seems to come with losing contact with the seasons. We felt the impact of mass consumerism of our day jobs and got to a point where we were escaping the city each weekend to go camping – to get back to nature, cook on fire, to cook with produce from local markets and connect with the environment we were in. That felt good to us, and we knew we were ready for change. I also lost two dear friends with cancer that year and that pushed us to remember that you only get one shot at life. We made a conscious decision on how we wanted the next 20 years of our working years to look.

On taking over Milk Haus …

Fast forward to mid-2020 and up popped Milk Haus for sale. I woke my partner in the middle of the night after discovering it online, by the time she woke up I had investigated the region, the venue, looked at reviews and had a business plan ready to present to her. The next day we contacted the agent, jumped in the car and went for breakfast. Instantly something lit us up. I had been holidaying in the region my entire life, so in a surprising way, it felt like home. We introduced ourselves to the owner at the time, Danielle McKeon, and had a brief chat. Two weeks later we made an offer, resigned from our jobs, put our Sydney house on the market and left our life in the big city for green pastures.

On what food meant growing up …

My mum was a fantastic cook. We travelled a lot, often to go water-skiing on the Hawkesbury each weekend in summer, so barbecues and salads were a big part of cooking and eating for us. Then we’d head South to Milton and onto Narrawallee, the beach that my grandparents lived by, just five minutes from Milk Haus. We would spend our days fishing, so seafood was always part of our family holidays. I think this helped me to value the products we were cooking with from a young age, as opposed to simply the plate that was put on our table at dinner time.

On why a restaurant …

As I got older, what ignited my interest in a life in hospitality was that experience of eating out all the time during my travels for work, and of course also socially – sitting in restaurants is where my love for hospitality really began. There is something moving about the vibe of a venue, the service from the staff, the creativity of the food and the sharing of stories as you break bread together. It’s so special. I also always loved cooking and entertaining at home, and I’d set challenges for myself, coming home each week after travelling and recreating some of the dishes I’d eaten while I was away. I would take photos, write notes of flavours, then have a play in our kitchen and that was the start of it really. When the opportunity of Milk Haus came up, I was like ‘oh this could be real, and I could do this every day.’ The idea was so romantic to me.

On learning how to run a kitchen and kitchen garden …

Pretty wild, I look back as we approach four years and wow, I have learnt so much. I am a big believer that you can do anything you put your mind to, but that you need to hustle and learn as much as you can to be the best that you can be in your craft. There are two parts to my response here as I both grow and cook at Milk Haus, which is amazing to be across both – some might even say living the dream.

I am a big believer that you can do anything you put your mind to, but that you need to hustle and learn as much as you can to be the best that you can be in your craft.

We have a one-acre kitchen garden onsite and now a second plot nearby – growing was a big learning curve for me. Thankfully we had help for the first six months so I could focus on cooking and running the kitchen, but growing has actually sparked a real passion for me. Being thrown into it, learning the seasons and what grows well in our region was a big part of it all; how much time it takes from a seedling to ready-for-harvest; how to harvest to get the maximum yield; how to deal with pests and natural disasters. I’ve learned to plan a menu six months in advance so I can have seedlings planted ready in time, I’ve learnt about how much to plant and about succession planting… gosh, I could go on for hours. How did I learn? I read a lot of cookbooks and gardening books, connected with other local growers, had sleepless nights scrolling Instagram reels. I’ve come to learn that each season is different – some you fail, and some are amazing, like this summer. It’s trial and error, such is life, but nothing beats growing a baby seedling, nurturing it, harvesting it, cleaning it then cooking it… the bliss and the joy is seeing the enjoyment in our customers faces.

Not to over-romanticise it – it’s a lot of work, and I’ve come to understand that for us, it’s not a viable option to grow everything that we cook right now. We’re lucky to have reliable suppliers to fill in where we need, and we hope to get to a place where we are growing the majority of what we’re cooking, but all in good time. Growing our own food has taught us just how valuable well-grown food is, and just how much work it is, plus it’s a wonderful way for me to keep in touch very intimately with the seasons as I’m writing menus and creating dishes.

On the cooking side, the previous owner Dani, graciously gave us six weeks crossover when we bought the place, and I learnt a lot in the kitchen in that short time – it’s pretty wild to think back on now. I learnt about planning, food prep, ordering, stock rotations, and we even wrote a menu together – I was just a sponge over those six weeks and by the end of it, I was ready to take it on. I started slowly and didn’t change too many things – Milk Haus was an institution in the region, and we wanted to keep that customer loyalty and gain some confidence with them, but also within ourselves. Overtime the venue has evolved with us, especially in the menu design and the service, and we feel now after four years that it’s where we wanted it to. Though there are always more projects on the horizon …

On what has been most impactful and impressionable on informing Nat’s style of cooking …

I suppose my style of cooking could be defined as wholesome – using all the ingredients I can from our garden, or locally, and keeping it all fresh and light. There’s nothing worse for me than going out for a meal and leaving feeling too full from too much rich food. I use a great deal of herbs and am obsessed with lemon (we have twelve lemon trees on the property… ). Beyond produce and interesting ingredients, cookbooks are also a big inspiration for me, and I love playing with pairings… I have a go-to bible for ingredient parings by Niki Segnit called The Flavour Thesaurus and that definitely helps inform my dishes and recipes – I start with the hero ingredient from my garden, and it evolves from there.

On what Milk Haus is all about …

Milk Haus is about a wholesome, good time from the moment you walk through the door. You drive through the rolling green hills of Milton and arrive to a 1900’s-converted cheese factory perched on a hill. The food ethos is wholefoods, grown onsite, cooked from our heart with hospitality like you’re dining in our home. The garden is the showcase for our diners – we always encourage guests to take a wander through the garden to get an understanding of how we’re working with food.

The food ethos is wholefoods, grown onsite, cooked from our heart with hospitality like you’re dining in our home.

Out the back of the restaurant we have a retail store called Motion ceramics – ceramics made by local couple Iris Rees and Jefferson Crozier from their studio in Kings Points. We also have a cooking school as well as beautiful farmhouse accommodation for guests to stay in for the complete Milk Haus experience. Our focus is on serving breakfasts and lunches, but we do the occasional small wedding, too.

Our food is simple, but we like to give diners something a little different – sure you can have eggs on toast, but we encourage you to trust us with trying something new. In summer you will see makrut lime, goat’s cheese baked polenta with vine ripened tomato sugo, or blistered tomatoes on labneh with sumac, oregano and local sourdough. Our current Autumn lunch menu lists a pumpkin, sage and goat’s cheese galette, or harissa-roasted eggplant, with a herby lentil salad and lemony yoghurt.

On the change from corporate city life to rural restaurant life …

The biggest change or challenge is the physical impact on our bodies. I am in the kitchen six days a week, so we only have one day to recover and like many small business owners, that is consumed by back-office stuff. Kitty runs the front of house and makes all of our desserts so it’s a six-day week for both of us. We know it won’t always be like that, we are working towards growing the business and with it, our team, but for now we love it. The most amazing thing has been getting to know the community down here, both locals and the hospitality crews – we are all so close and the support and friendship has been overwhelmingly beautiful.

On what drives day-in and day-out …

Mental and physical strength in service is definitely intense, but I am a bit of an adrenaline junky, so mostly I don’t mind that. We did a kitchen renovation about a year ago where I knocked the wall down that hid the kitchen – I hated being behind a wall as you couldn’t feel connected to customers or see what was going on on the other side. I wanted it to be open to the public as I thrive off the energy in the room and seeing people enjoy the venue and the food – that’s what keeps us going in the kitchen. We always have customers popping up to say thank you or to ask for the recipe for what they ate, it’s so nice. If we do need some time out of the kitchen, it’s always nourishing to wander out into the garden, to soak up the fresh air and look out over the dairy cows and rolling green hills.

On recharging on days off …

We love a glass of wine at our cool little locals, and we walk our dog Ralphy every morning and afternoon down at the beach which is so special. Usually, a summer’s day off is spent by the pool or going for a dip in the ocean. I also always love being in my home garden, pottering about, and doing a bit of cooking at home is always recharging. 

On developing and maintaining relationships with staff and the community …

Your tribe creates your vibe. Kitty and I lead our business being very hands on and open with our team, and I think they respect that and want to be part of what we are building. They genuinely treat the business like their own and I think our customers feel that. Our team are amazing and really are our family down here. We have always immersed ourselves in whatever we do, and I think community was a big thing for us moving here, especially leaving the city. We are super active in supporting other hospitality businesses, or fundraising efforts for various causes, and that includes dining out as much as we can or recommending other venues to our diners. On the occasions when any of us have staff shortages we help out with doing an odd shift here or there which is special. The friends we have made through Milk Haus has been mind-blowing.

Your tribe creates your vibe.

On what’s thrilling as we head into the cooler months …

I’ve just turned the beds over from summer and planted all the usual winter brassicas. We love broccolini and it will feature on our breakfast and lunch menus come winter. Cauliflower will also be of abundance – I use the leaves with kale and silverbeet and roast up the cauliflower in a dhal. We’ve also planted a lot of leeks – it’s a staple veg for our stocks, but we’ll also char-grill it this season and serve it with burrata and hazelnuts. I do love seeing the garden slow down a bit over the cooler months, natures time to rest and hey, we all need a bit of that don’t we?

On the biggest challenges of running a restaurant today …  

The rising cost of goods is so unpredictable at the moment, there are endless increases across the board and some are hard to pass on to the customer, like olive oil for example – a staple ingredient that has recently doubled in price. We’ve learned from being new to the game the importance of keeping our menu simple and focusing on interesting flavours – this allows us to be consistent, and ultimately, work through these rising costs. I think it’s important that we as an industry stand by our prices. Some of our breakfast dishes are $25, but that dish has had an entire lifecycle put into it, from growing the ingredients from a seed to plating it four months later. That involves nurturing it to keep it healthy and free from chemicals, then harvesting, cleaning and cooking. People will pay for good food; we must remember this and not devalue the craft. We as humans love to eat, and eating out is a big part of our culture, and as a community we hope this continues to be supported.

People will pay for good food; we must remember this and not devalue the craft.

On advice for someone considering a life in food …

I think passion is everything in career choices so ideally you would love food. Getting a job in hospitality when you’re younger is such a great start and teaches you so much about process, cleanliness, accuracy, but most of all, it’s social. We have had dozens of juniors start with us who can barely hold eye contact and are super shy, but after a few weeks they’re waiting tables and engaging with customers – it’s beautiful to see their confidence grow over time. Then there’s our journey of trying a new career after 25 years. I think it’s important to remember that you don’t have to stay on one career path for your entire life, you can learn anything. I say lean in and go for it, life is too short and we need more food creatives in this world!

On day-off lunches at home …

I have a garden at home, and it’s packed with every herb possible, plus some seasonal things for the restaurant. I am obsessing over white anchovies right now, it’s on our menu at the moment so I have access to some amazing Sicilian ones. I’ll grab some chives and dill from the garden and mix them into a soft ricotta with some lemon zest and char off some sourdough or rye. I’ll toast some chopped pistachios, fennel seed, chilli flakes and add some honey at the end. The ricotta gets smeared on the toast, the pistachio fennel mix sprinkled on next, then I top it all with the anchovies, some extra dill and more lemon zest. A glass of crisp Riesling will be in the other hand for ultimate relaxed vibes.

And to finish, a few ‘faves’

Favourite kitchen tool: Anything that speeds up my efficiency, especially a powered hand mixer – egg white game changer.

Favourite food book: Gill Meller – I love all of his cookbooks, they’re so visual and seasonally divine. I also love The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit, it’s so good for ingredient pairing.

Favourite food person: Danielle Alvarez – most memorable dining experience was at Fred’s back in the day. Watching Danielle in that kitchen was so inspiring and planted a seed of wanting to run a kitchen one day.

Herb: Dill. I just love dill.

Place to perch for a glass and a snack on the South Coast right now: Small Town Provisions – amazing wine list, great small snacks and a real community hub to hang out in.

Nat's warming harissa roasted eggplant sits atop our 100% Linen Table Cloth in Natural & alongside our 100% Linen Napkin Set in White

Harissa roasted eggplant with lentil salad and lemon yoghurt
Serves 6

A recipe from our current Autumn menu. Harissa adds a perfect warmth to the eggplant during this time of year as the days shorten and the temperatures drop – we make our own but it’s easy to buy at any good grocer. I hope you love the dish as much as we do.


For the eggplants:
3 eggplants, halved lengthways and flesh scored
1 tablespoon harissa
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
2 tablespoons lemon zest
Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

For the lentil salad:
1 cup (210 g) Puy lentils
2 cups (500 ml) water
1 cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1 cup coriander, roughly chopped
1 cup mint, roughly chopped
¼ cup currants or pomegranate arils
1 cup (260 g) Greek yoghurt
Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt, for seasoning

For the dressing:
¼ cup (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
¼ cup (60 ml) lemon juice


To make the dressing, place the oil, vinegar, pomegranate molasses and lemon juice in a bowl, whisk to combine and set aside.

Preheat oven to 190°C. Place the eggplant, cut-side up, on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper. Place the harissa, garlic, pomegranate molasses and lemon rind in a bowl and mix to combine. Spoon over the eggplant, drizzle with the olive oil and roast for 30 mins, until tender. In the last 5 minutes of cooking, brush on more harissa to caramelise the eggplant.

Place the lentils and water in a small saucepan over high heat and bring this to the boil. Reduce the heat to medium, cover with a tight-fitting lid and simmer for 20 minutes, or until just tender. Drain and refresh under cold running water. 

Place the lentils, parsley, coriander, mint and currants in a large bowl. Toss with the dressing just before serving.

For the yoghurt, mix the yoghurt with the lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Stir to combine, and taste for seasoning.

Place each eggplant half on a plate and top each with a good spoon of the lentil salad. Top with the lemon yoghurt and an extra spoonful of harissa. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and a touch more lemon zest.



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