Cullen, Noel Christopher (1947–2002), chef, academic, and author, was born 30 December 1947 in Moore St., Dublin, third among five children of Thomas Cullen, labourer, and Elizabeth Cullen (née Keeley). His career combined in equal parts culinary arts, administration, research, publication, and pedagogy. Cullen became the first person in the world to hold both a doctoral degree and certified master chef qualifications.
He began his apprenticeship at the age of thirteen in the Charcoal Grill, Dublin, furthering his training in the Gresham Hotel and from 1964 in the old Jury's Hotel in Dame St., Dublin, where he was under the tutelage of Chef Willy Widmere, ‘a wonderful Swiss culinary taskmaster’ (his own words). Qualifying as a chef in 1968, he worked as chef de partie, saucier, in the Café Royal in London before returning to Ireland in 1969 to work first as head chef in the Skellig Hotel in Dingle, Co. Kerry, during the filming of Ryan's daughter, and later in the John D. Carroll contract catering organisation. For a number of years he spent his holidays cooking for Lord Mountbatten in his holiday home in Co. Sligo. He returned to the Dublin College of Catering, where he studied and gained the City and Guilds of London 706/3 (advanced cookery course for industry chefs) in 1977. Jimmy Kilbride, who was his instructor on the 706/3 programme, remembers him as an exceptionally gifted student, cook, and individual. Cullen credited Kilbride with giving him a new pride as a chef, and recognised that the advanced cookery programme made a significant contribution in raising the consciousness and self-awareness of the Irish chefs. Cullen spent the years 1977–81 as executive chef in Dublin's Gresham Hotel, gaining the Savarin restaurant a rating in Wedgwood's top fifty restaurants of the world. He was a central figure in reforming the panel of chefs of Ireland. Following his election as president of the panel, he set the wheels in motion for acceptance of the panel into the World Association of Cooks Societies (WACS) in Frankfurt in 1980.
Cullen held the position of executive chef in Dublin's Berkeley Court Hotel (1981–2) and in the Shelbourne Hotel (1982–3). From 1983 to 1987 he worked as a training adviser for CERT (Council for Education, Recruitment, and Training), where he was involved in developing the new national curriculum. From 1987 to 1991 he worked in Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island, USA, first as director of operations, then dean of practicum education, and finally as assistant professor in the graduate school. During this period he graduated with a bachelor of science degree in 1986, and a master of science degree in managerial technology in 1989, both from Johnson & Wales. He became associate professor in Boston University's school of hospitality administration in 1990, and he gained his doctorate in education in 1992 from Boston University, where he continued to work until his death in 2002.
He won many honours in recognition of his work developing culinary arts, and his contribution to culinary competitions was legendary. He captained and coached Ireland and America, and selected regional teams for many major culinary competitions and international salons culinaires. In 1991 he completed the certified master chef examinations in the Culinary Institute of America, becoming one of only fifty-two master chefs in the US. He won numerous gold medals and other awards. He was selected as speaker for the Salute to Excellence at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago in 1996; received the awards of Le Salon Culinaire de Londres Professional Services Award, the American Culinary Federation (ACF) 1995 National Educator of the Year, and master craftsman in the Craft Guild of Chefs; and was elected as a fellow of the Epicurean World Master Chefs Society. He was chair (1990–94) of the ACF Educational Institute, and was elected national president of the ACF in July 1997 for two terms. In 1997 the Council on Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Education (CHRIE) awarded him the Chef Herman Breihaupt trophy for his outstanding contribution and excellence in hospitality education. He received an honorary doctorate of culinary arts from Johnson & Wales University in May 2001.
He was an accomplished writer, his publications including Life beyond the line: a front-of-the-house companion for culinarians (2000); Team power: managing human resources in the hospitality industry (2001); and Elegant Irish cooking: recipes from the world's foremost Irish chefs (2001). His textbook for chefs, The world of culinary supervision, training and management (1996), is used in many culinary institutions. Noel Cullen died 16 February 2002 in America.
He married first (1970) Anna McCabe; they had one adopted son, Darragh. Anna died of cancer in 1985. He married secondly (1987) Linda Demery, who died tragically in 1999.