Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Jim Fuller, Co-Founder & Chief Science Officer at Fable Food Co

Jim Fuller is the Co-Founder & Chief Science Officer at Fable Food Co, a company on a mission to make food more healthy and sustainable by leveraging the nutritious benefits and natural umami flavours of mushrooms.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I was working on a chemical engineering degree at the University of Texas at San Antonio while working full time as a fine dining chef when my wife got an amazing job opportunity out in California.

By that time I had spent 6 years in study and 12 years in the kitchen. We moved to California and I took a job working on a mushroom farm as a spawn supervisor and fell in love. I took up the hobby of mushroom foraging, and cultivation and learned about the evolutionary histories of different fungi and interesting folklore and just kept going further down the rabbit hole.

We eventually moved to Australia, where I then got a degree in agricultural science at the University of Melbourne while operating a small mushroom farm in my in-laws’ back yard. After graduation I started a larger farm. I had a big failure because I didn’t understand the market and grew too many of one type of mushroom then had to go work for someone and took a spawn supervisor role at the largest mushroom farm in the southern hemisphere at Costas in Mernda Victoria.

After getting back on my feet I went to work selling mushrooms in the Vic wholesale fruit and veg market for a few years, rounding out my education in the industry here. I felt ready to go into cultivation again and quickly after taking a role to do so I found a huge amount of mushroom by-product was being wasted and started making vegan meat replacement food products from them.

Not long after that we co-founders got together and started Fable with a mission to help end industrial animal agriculture by making meaty delicious food from mushrooms.

2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

 I’m the head of research and development, and get to play with different mushrooms in different preparation and cooking processes searching at the microscopic to macroscopic level for any one of a number of things from a particular taste, colour, texture, odour, water holding capacity, stiffness, chewiness, yield and on and on it can go.

I spend a fair amount of time working on theory and then converting it to practical applications through experiment. Once I develop a strong correlation that gives favourable results I’ll document the process and outcomes and pass along samples to my team for hallway testing.

In my research I need to find a good balance between being able to produce the very best version of a thing, with a benchtop scale that uses a combination of technology, innovation, minimal processing, and that leaves as much whole food ingredients as possible while also keeping an awareness that I need to develop processes that can convert to commercial scale and need to be competitive in the market.

Some of the innovations that I get to spend time on are so exciting, and cutting edge that there is nowhere in any literature that teaches about them and I get to write patents. 

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

 Our company core values are inclusive of flexibility. We are all remote, all working from home offices or home development kitchens and we incorporate work into our lives and our lives into our work.

Fable may take us to South East Asia for new product development, after which a team member may stay around to work from a beach for a while. That leaves many opportunities as well for extra presence at our co manufacturing partners or to spend time visiting supply chain prospects.

Anytime we need to travel for work, we always look for any opportunity to stay around for a little bit longer and get the most on both business and personal levels. I’ve always wanted to retire on a houseboat, there is a running joke within our team that I might get there early if I just put a development kitchen and a good satellite wifi on a boat and then I could float around the world and continue my work and leisure.

We do however spend weeks at a time or even months without seeing our team, so we have monthly all hands online meetings and a bi monthly cooking session as well as the exec team meeting in a VR metaverse office weekly.

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4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

 We all have an agreed upon amount of time we should work as well as a commitment to maintaining healthy personal lives however that is defined by the individual.

To me work life balance is when you can honestly say you love what you are doing or at least you love what you are doing affords for you and you don’t feel like work gets in the way of life but that work gives you the opportunities to enjoy it.

I’ve never had a day where I had a hard cut to my work day ending, it always just seems like there’s a natural finish that feels transitional right into life.

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

I have pretty static routines that change with the seasonal temperature. I love to get the day started by soaking in the sunshine on my skin. It’s very nice to do that when the temperature allows, but living in Melbourne several months of the year means I’ll instead start the day by loading some logs into a wood heater.

Either way, I’ll typically prepare my coffee or tea and mentally prepare for my day absorbing the warmth and energy and intentionally converting that to creative fuel.

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

I love listening to long form podcasts while I work. Joe Rogan’s catalogue is huge and I’ll never be able to consume all his content but I look for a guest that I would like to hear and I’m almost always happier for doing so.

Lex Friedman and Jordan Peterson are typically somewhere to be found during my workweek as well. I also love listening to audio books and often recommend a few; Sapiens and Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harare are thought provoking and insightful to the formation of human beings’ rituals, storytelling, myths, cultures and the rise of man in his evolutionary path from jungle creature to Warlords and city dwellers.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell is great for understanding how some people just seem to be built for something specific. I also love to recommend several mushroom or fungi books because they are provocative. Stealing Fire by Steven Kotler and Jaime Wheal, How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan, The Immortality Key by Brian Moraresku and Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake. 

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

 For our team, we use Slack for communications and Asana for project management and feel that we are so well connected and in tune at all times.

We integrate Google Drive and Calendar and honestly I’ve never felt more capable to know so much about what’s going on in the business and who’s on top of what and where people are in the world. For my day to day, the most important things have turned out to be measurement equipment, precision scales.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?  

Malcolm Gladwell and Abraham Maslow. Gladwell wrote Outliers, one of my favourite books on amazing human capabilities, and Maslow is a psychologist who wrote a Theory of Human Motivation.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

The magnitude of the satisfaction you will feel in a success will be directly correlated to the magnitude of the adversity you experience along the way. Keep going, it’s going to be sweet.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.