Thanks to her culinary skills, Julie Votaro has enjoyed a wonderfully diverse array of life experiences in a short amount of time.

Julie, the 194th person I’ve met on my quest to have lunch with 500 strangers, became a chef after falling in love with cooking as a child. She worked in several prestigious Sydney restaurants, including Rockpool and Guillaume at Bennelong.

Julie also ran the kitchen on a billionaire’s yacht. (Don’t bother asking who the owner was – she had to sign a non-disclosure agreement.) Julie worked long hours, cooking for the family, the crew and a succession of party guests. But there were fringe benefits – one day the yacht might be in Monaco; another in the Bahamas. 

After selling the boat, the billionaire hired Julie to cook for the family at their home in Los Angeles. 

Despite her love of cooking, Julie realised she didn’t want to work crazy restaurant hours for the rest of her life. So she took her career in a different direction, studying food science and nutrition at university.

Now, Julie works as food technologist for Mars, which involves testing new products and monitoring the quality of existing products. Julie loves the job, because she gets to experience food in a way she never did when she was a chef. 

Julie also helped me see food in a new way. My idea of fine dining is baked beans on toast, but, through Julie’s eyes, I was able to appreciate the pleasure someone can get from preparing or eating a well-cooked meal.