Interview Michael Mundy Images Robin Li Film Zexi Qi
Taylor Foster has modeled for Vogue, traveled the world and worked with some of the most prestigious brands, but she’s not just a pretty face. With a degree from the Culinary Institute of America, an upstate empire and now a holistic skincare line, Foster proves that she can do just about anything and then some.
MICHAEL: I know you as a model but I also remember you are a great pastry chef. You have this talent and you’ve worked with some great people. Can you tell me about who you’ve worked with in the past and what you’re doing now?
TAYLOR: Well, yeah I got my associates degree in baking at the Culinary Institute of America. From there, I worked at King and Lance, a health spa in Tucson, AZ. I’ve always been more health-minded, you know, vegan things and gluten-free things. So I had a recipe development office there, and developed new recipes for the different programs. That was a really great springboard and challenge for me. And that was back in ’96, a long time ago.
MICHAEL: Yeah, that is a long time ago.
TAYLOR: So I did that, and then I started modeling because I wanted to open up a bakery–that was my lifelong dream–and I was flat broke. So I was like, well, maybe I should try this modeling thing again. I can save some money to open a bakery! Right when I started modeling again, it was like this moment that kind of hit hard for me–which was great. And I kind of ran with that. And then I got burnt out on fashion so I started working at another restaurant, Daniel’s in the city.
MICHAEL: I think that’s where I met you, no? I seem to recall, or maybe it was just after that.
TAYLOR: I think it was actually, because I remember I had short hair when I shot with you. I was working in the kitchen there, so I chopped it all off. And that was lovely. I had gone from, you know, like, traveling the world and shooting for Vogue and watching all the runways, and then I went into the kitchen of, you know, an amazing five star restaurant in New York City. I’m just going to make my chocolates, and no one cares about anything else other than how good my chocolates are. I was making six dollars an hour, which was a huge difference.
MICHAEL: Where were you born and raised?
TAYLOR: Miami. Yeah, I know, another oddity about me.
MICHAEL: And what was life growing up in Miami like for you?
TAYLOR: I mean, it was good. I grew up mostly in Miami but we had a house just south of Islamorada, in the Keys. So I spent a lot of time in the Keys as well, and grew up on boats, snorkeling and in the ocean. When you think of Miami, you think of the city, which of course it is, but it’s also a very sprawling city. I grew up in Kendall, which is so very different than it is now.
MICHAEL: When did baking things start for you?
TAYLOR: Always. I was one of those little kids, like at four years old, when you asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I would respond, I want to be a bakery. My mom would try to correct me and say, you mean a baker? And I’d say no, a bakery. I’ve always loved math too, which kind of goes hand in hand with needing to know your formulas.
MICHAEL: And also running a business… Were you baking at an early age or just dreaming about it?
TAYLOR: Oh yeah, I was always baking and always experimenting. I remember my first cookbooks. I remember finding a copy of the Fanny Farmer Baking Book which is a big, hardcover—I read it cover to cover. I just took it all in and always trying to make lollipops and weird things. But it was great, I always loved it.
MICHAEL: So you eventually moved to Manhattan, became a model, became a successful chef. And so when did you find your home upstate? What was the genesis of all that?
TAYLOR: I think it was just shortly after I met you. I got laid off after September 11th at Daniel’s. They closed down for lunch permanently after that, and then they let go of people and I was one of the last that had been hired, and so I was one of the first to go. So then that threw me back into modeling. I bought my first house just around then. I don’t even know what year that was, maybe 2002.
MICHAEL: Where was your first house?
TAYLOR: My first house was actually in this little town called Grahamsville in Ulster County. It was right on the boarder between Ulster County and Sullivan County. That was short lived. I was engaged to someone and we bought it together, and that relationship fell apart. I didn’t get the house. Then a good friend of mine had a place in Roscoe and he had this one-room schoolhouse that had been converted on 60-acres. I was spending a lot of time there. He bought the house for a 100 grand and was paying 600 dollars a month, and I was like, oh wait a minute, this is doable. And I just came up to Delaware County and it struck me in a whole other way. I really fell in love with the openness of it. Obviously the beauty, but it was a different landscape than Roscoe, where I’d been spending my time. I went back to the city and started looking online for things that were for sale and the building on Main Street in Bovina popped up and I just fell hard.
TAYLOR: Because this 1860s building had been a restaurant. The main floor was a commercial restaurant space, and it had two beautiful lofted apartments upstairs. Two days later, my then-husband and I drove up, saw it and I just started crying. It was one of those rainy, crappy days. I remember it specifically, we walked through the whole thing. We got back in the car and I looked at him and I just started crying. I was so in love. So in love with this place and I didn’t even know how I was going to buy it. But I called. I made an offer. It was accepted and I was like okay, I’m going to figure this out. And that’s how I got my first place here.
MICHAEL: Amazing. And that became what?
TAYLOR: That was Heaven, the café I opened. Yeah, exactly, my plan did work. I did model, make the money, bought the building and opened the bakery.
“I was so in love. So in love with this place and I didn’t even know how I was going to buy it.”
MICHAEL: Your dream came true.
TAYLOR: My dream had come true. I wasn’t quite expecting to start it at that time. Like I said, I didn’t have tons of money to pour into it. I didn’t know the area at all. I didn’t know a single person in the town. I didn’t know anything about it, but I just fell in love with this building and was like, okay, this is it.
MICHAEL: This beautiful girl moves into town, opens a bakery, and what does the town think?
TAYLOR: They loved it. And I was so thankful I ended up where I did because it was such a great community of people. Looking back, that was so risky of me to make this transition and open a business when I knew nothing about the area. And then amazingly enough the community started coming in. It was a great mix of city people, of local people, and everyone was super supportive.
MICHAEL: Amazing. So then how did you end up finding your spot where you are now?
TAYLOR: I ended up also buying the house across the street from the café. It was a five-bedroom house and I did a bed and breakfast there—for a minute. This was before AirBNB, and I had so many people coming in. There was barely any place for anyone to stay and people were visiting and coming up and wanting recommendations of places to stay, and I was like, yeah, I don’t know—there’s this crappy motel twenty minutes away, but that’s about it. So the house came up for sale, and we jumped on it. We did three rooms, did all the rooms up and then literally had four guests and I was like, I can’t do it. I was running the café. I was baking everything. I was running the whole business side of it and it was hard to find someone that I could really trust and work with. So adding on top the bed and breakfast part of it and I was heading real fast to the burn out phase. And I was still modeling and going back and forth to the city. I was doing a lot of commercial work at the time which obviously supported everything, but it was a lot.
MICHAEL: That is a lot.
TAYLOR: Yeah, so I ended up saying, you know, this isn’t for us. We need to move out of town. I really wanted some privacy, and I wanted to get off Main Street. I was living above the café initially. And then we moved across the street. And now we’re across the street, we have a little bit of separation but it wasn’t enough separation. We needed to move farther away. So we were actually looking for a house, and then—this is kind of another happenstance moment. I ended up running into a friend on the street from a house I was looking at, and he said, “You know, if I had to do it all over again, I’d start from scratch and not fight an old system and do exactly what I wanted.” I hadn’t really considered that I could build a house. I asked my friend if she knew of any great properties. And she did. So again, we went up, came back, put an offer on it and got it.
MICHAEL: Definitely meant to be.
TAYLOR: Yes, very meant to be. My husband and I at the time got this property. He started building. He’s a fashion photographer but he always had this penchant for building. And he really wanted to do it himself and so, we built the cabin.
MICHAEL: That’s incredible. Let’s talk about the cabin then. You’re not the typical girl, who—I don’t know, it’s a pretty rustic cabin.
TAYLOR: I was having a conversation the other day and explaining it to Carmen, a designer I work with, and I was like, there’s no running water, there’s no electricity. It’s super rustic, and it’s amazing, and I love living in that way. But also I have a great community of friends here as well and it would be harder if I didn’t have that. Because we go to our friends’ house, and do laundry, and take showers in the winter, and fill up our water bottles. So, we have some perks around here.
“…there’s no running water, there’s no electricity. It’s super rustic, and it’s amazing, and I love living in that way.”
MICHAEL: So what’s home like when you’re here? Are you baking? Are you creating?
TAYLOR: The only oven on the property is in the sunset trailer. There’s a propane oven in there that I can bake in if I want to. I bake bread in there. I bake cookies, quiches and things like that. But things also unexpectedly transitioned about a year ago when I started making all this skincare. I guess I just enjoy having a lot of different things going on, and following whatever I’m passionate about.
MICHAEL: What’s your skincare line called?
TAYLOR: It’s under the Heaven brand, but it’s Cloud Nine. Cloud Nine was the bed and breakfast originally. And then inside Heaven, I had a side room of designer and vintage clothing that I called Cloud Nine. Everything had been dead for so long, so that when I did the skin care, I was like, I still have Cloud Nine! I can still use that, you know? And so I did. But skin care is something I’ve always done for myself, and I just started doing the skin care as an easier, fun thing for me to do. I didn’t need a professional kitchen. I find the alchemy really similar, between baking and mixing up, because I layer in lots of different ingredients. I’ve always been really drawn to scent as well. That was a big factor in it for me.
MICHAEL: Is there a typical day up at your cabin?
TAYLOR: The cabin is very dependent on seasons. It’s a lot of work. Obviously, to wash any dishes, you have to go and get water. I have this great little run off pipe that comes off the mountain and we fill our bottles there, bring them back. But you’re carrying everything in and its labor, and its filling bags, hanging them, and then boiling water if you want hot water. To wash the dishes, it drains into the pot, and you bring this huge pot outside and dump all that.
MICHAEL: It certainty puts things in perspective, no?
TAYLOR: Yeah, it does. We’re so disconnected from that. I have such a different viewpoint. Then when I do go to the city, too, I’m like, look at all this free flowing water!
MICHAEL: You mentioned a couple times in this conversation the word “community.” It’s a word that’s sometimes not used enough these days, but it seems people are becoming more and more aware of the importance of it. Can you talk a little about what’s it like upstate for you?
TAYLOR: It’s actually a big part of why we’re moving up full-time now. I don’t know if that influenced your decision as well, but I’ve been in this community now for ten years and it’s amazing. Even from the beginning, I remember thinking I’m much more social up here than I am in the city. It’s odd. And then I thought, is that because I’m running a business, and I know everyone? But the dinner parties, and the level of comfort that’s here is so different then the city environment, for me. Especially at this point, you know, with my six-year old son, I feel so isolated in the city. You’re surrounded by tons of people, but I feel incredibly isolated, and I barely have anyone to reach out to. When I come up here, I know, instantly, who I can call, not even have to call, just stop by and have a cup of tea and chat with. Or if I’m stuck, and I need help with something, they’re there for you.
“I feel so isolated in the city. You’re surrounded by tons of people, but I feel incredibly isolated, and I barely have anyone to reach out to.”
MICHAEL: That’s something we’ve learned also. Our values have shifted. It sounds silly, but you’ve already said it in this conversation—running water, the importance of water. Our well pump broke down recently, and suddenly, we were forced to live a few days without water, and we were completely altered by the experience. The same thing with people, our neighbors, the value of a person who lives close by, who can lend a hand and a conversation—everything seems to be magnified in a sense. It really shifts your values a lot and simplifies things and makes them very clear.
TAYLOR: I love having people come visit us at the cabin, whether it’s friends or friends with kids. The kids, obviously, are always truly honest, and you get that learning curve of like, what do you mean there’s no TV? Or like, I have to go to the bathroom. Or, you know, there’s too many bugs! And I’m like, look, we have to stop freaking out over the bugs, we’re in a cabin and this is it, okay? And just kind of reeducating all these people that come through.
MICHAEL: So what’s going on now, for you? Do you think you’ll be full-time up here? What will life be like for you then?
TAYLOR: Yeah, I’m actually planning on transferring my son Duncan after Christmas break and coming up full-time, so just a couple of months away. I’m excited. We’re also talking about starting a little progressive school up here as well. I’m excited about that too.
MICHAEL: How does your son see you? It must be pretty amazing for a boy to see his mom being celebrated for her looks but has such a wonderful approach to life.
TAYLOR: I think that he’s pretty good now that he’s six, but he was definitely a struggle the first few years for me. But he’s very strong willed, and it is an adventure, as you know, growing with these amazing beings that do wonders for really pointing out all the things about us that we work hard at. I used to think I was a really patient person, then I met my son and was like oh my gosh! Not as patient as I thought!
MICHAEL: Maybe one day he’ll look back and realize what a gift this is, to have these experiences. I mean, your home is small, he’s definitely going to be close to you.
TAYLOR: No, it is amazing. I love that it is a small environment. That really forces you to have a different approach to personal space. We are on top of each other, and that’s the way we like it. There’s 22-acres of land if you want to get some space. Get outside!
MICHAEL: Yeah, I walked in your place and felt so comfortable right away.
TAYLOR: That’s what I would love for everyone that comes in to feel–a welcoming vibe of like, we’re all one big community. Whether or not we see things different, we all still have a common thread. At the end of the day, we all just want love. If I can create an environment that people walk in and feel that way, then I’ve done well.