The Junction Hotel will soon bid farewell to chef Cheryl Wilson, a talented woman who has long been the driving force behind some of the venue's most delicious meals and sweets.
Having spent 38 years developing her craft at a variety of venues from Sydney to New Zealand and here in the Hunter, industry stalwart Cheryl Wilson is preparing to serve up her last dish, but only in the professional sense.
"Cooking is what I love. It's who I am and that will not stop just because I am retiring. In saying that though, I have found incredible pleasure cooking for others and it has always brought me so much joy," she said.
"Cooking is what I love. It's who I am and that will not stop just because I am retiring. In saying that though, I have found incredible pleasure cooking for others and it has always brought me so much joy..."
Cheryl's career started from humble beginnings in the early 1980s at The Australian Club in Sydney where she was the first female kitchen hand to ever be employed at the venue.
"It was a challenging environment in those days, but I was proud of my role at the club because it was a prestigious venue and proved a great start for my career," she said.
Cheryl later moved to yet another iconic Sydney venue, the Sydney Journalist's Club before a tree change took her to Glenn Innes where she started her first business, a pub bistro launched with some friends.
"It was our first real go at running a business and I probably didn't completely realise it at the time, but those lessons would serve me well in the years to come," she said.
Cheryl Wilson and Junction Hotel head chef Warren Fouracre
After learning the ropes of running a business, Cheryl and her partner moved to his native home of New Zealand where they opened their own vegetarian cafe and also attended trade school to become qualified chefs.
"At that time in the mid 80s the Australian dollar had good value in New Zealand and so we bought the cafe in Dunedin which was already being run by Australian owners," she said.
"Back then you couldn't even really go and buy a coffee in New Zealand and import restrictions made things difficult, so we went to the markets each day for things like spinach and cauliflower. It certainly took some creativity to formulate an interesting menu in that kind of environment."
When Cheryl and her husband started a family in 1988, they returned to Australia, first to Eden on the South Coast and then to Port Stephens where they spent time working as chefs at both Shoal Bay Country Club and Anchorage Resort.
"It was lovely up there, but when our girls became teenagers we moved down to Newcastle and that's when we opened Cha Chaz at the Junction. My husband and I ran that business together for 15 years, living just around the corner and putting in some very long hours.
"But through that we've raised our kids, bought a house, and all the things you want to do. It's been a lifestyle choice that we've been living for almost 40 years."
When the couple decided to take leave from the long hours and commitment of owning and running a business, Cheryl took her extensive list of skills across the road to the Junction Hotel.
"We still live just around the corner and it's been a wonderful place to work," she said.
"The people there are what really make it special, but I've also had the opportunity to be creative with the menu and take a leading role as pastry chef, which has been terrific because baking is something very special to me."
"The people there are what really make it special, but I've also had the opportunity to be creative with the menu and take a leading role as pastry chef, which has been terrific because baking is something very special to me..."
While Cheryl was quick to admit that making a mark in the hospitality industry takes both hard work and commitment, she also believes there is no other industry that provides the same opportunities for growth, variety and travel.
"You can be anything you want, wherever you want. That is the beauty of this industry," she said.
"For young people interested in making hospitality their career, yes it's hard work and long hours and you sometimes have to be patient, but there are no limits to what you can become if you put your mind to it. It provides skills that can take you anywhere you want to go, within the industry and around the world. There is no other industry quite like it."
"You can be anything you want, wherever you want. That is the beauty of this industry..."
The challenge for the Junction Hotel now is to find a replacement chef as talented as Cheryl.