It was June 2020 and Taryce Cahill was excited. The Horsley chef had scored her dream job as head chef at the newly opened restaurant of TV celebrity chef and Dapto darling, Mark Olive.
From the bistro at Dapto Hotel, she would work with the renowned indigenous chef, whose inventive take on little-known native Australian ingredients had brought him industry clout, a television career and international opportunities.
Ms Cahill won the job during an informal interview at Olive's Brownsville cafe on June 1 after the star's brother - her friend - introduced the pair and vouched for her abilities.
"He [Olive] told me straight up, 'go and get a passport'. He promised me we'd travel around the world and said we were going to be cooking for Oprah in October," Ms Cahill told the Mercury.
But the job never lasted that long. There were no overseas trips. More concerning for Ms Cahill, there were barely any wages either.
Ms Cahill spent nine months pursuing almost $5000 in unpaid wages from Olive before a court order was made in her favour in March. She says her calls to Olive then went unanswered for another two months before he at last handed over the money last week, only after the case attracted media attention.
She says she wants the matter brought to light to draw attention to bad practices in the industry, and to clear her name.
According to her sworn affidavit, Ms Cahill started work for Olive the day after her interview and took full control of the kitchen from June 8, supervising four employees. She said she would often visit the kitchen on her days off, "to make sure the [staff] had everything they needed".
"I gave it 110 per cent," she told the Mercury. "I was very happy with the role that I had been given, and as far as I knew, Mark was this amazing man and I was very excited to be heading his restaurant."
She said she agreed Olive's proposal to pay her in cash until the end of the financial year, but found it confusing and mentally exhausting. She said he once paid her $500 cash, but not the rest of the money she was owed.
"I respectfully asked [Olive] about the paperwork he promised ... but he always had an excuse for me,' she wrote in her affidavit. "[He] would say things like, 'the accountant is on holidays, I'm waiting for the accountant to get back from holidays, I'm now in the middle of changing accountants, I'm waiting for the accountant to tell me the cash pay rate, accountant has lost the paperwork, I'll have your pay next week, I'll be there in an hour with your pay'. Nothing ever eventuated."
The pair argued after Ms Cahill raised an issue about one of her staff and Olive told her, "step up, I'm paying you as the head chef".
Olive arranged a meeting on July 11 to resolve the dispute and told Ms Cahill "I also have a bit more money for you", but that the meeting never eventuated, and she never returned to the kitchen.
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In a decision handed down in the Federal Circuit Court on March 23, Olive was ordered to pay Ms Cahill $4,916.82 in unpaid wages for 25 days' work over a six week period in June/July last year.
The order gave him 28 days to pay; but Ms Cahill says all efforts to contact him failed for two months until she at last received the money last week.
She said the dispute had taken "a massive toll, mentally", particularly as word of the pay dispute spread among Olive's loyal local following.
"Mark had a lot of following from the Aboriginal community. I'd be in Coles and people knew what happened because it was the talk of the town," she said.
"In the aisles, they'd call me names and yell swear words. They'd say, 'there's that dog that's ripping Mark off'. I ignore it, I don't retaliate, but it's definitely hurtful.
"I shouldn't have to get called names from people I don't even know when I go shopping."
Olive and his representatives did not respond to the Mercury's requests for comment.
In an interview last year about the opening of his Brownsville cafe, Dandy's on Wodi Wodi, he told the Mercury:
"I've travelled the world, I've travelled all around Australia, I've done a lot of stuff in communities and TV, and I got to the stage where I just needed to slow down a bit," he said.
"Coming out of COVID, I've been very fortunate to stay afloat, keep my staff ... and just get through it because I know there's no other place in the Illawarra like this."
The Mercury understands Olive is no longer operating the Dapto or Brownsville venues.
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