Words by Michelle Zhu
THE Peninsula Picnic is returning to the Mornington Peninsula on the 20th of March (Sunday) for an even bigger year than ever before. The event is dedicated to celebrating fine wine, fresh local produce, delicious food and beautiful music, and is a must-do for anybody looking to fill up their cultural calendar. Timberwolf and Missy Higgins, among many others, will be performing on the day, while being served culinary delights and glasses of decadent artisan wine.
Martin Webster, head chef of Montalto, a prestigious and top tier restaurant and winery located in the Morning Peninsula, just an hour away from Melbourne, has been working alongside fellow chefs and food professionals on the culinary lineup to bring some signature dishes to the Peninsula Picnic menu. We were lucky enough to have a Q&A sesh with him, where we discussed the his top spots in Sydney, his personal story into becoming a chef, and why food is an important part of appreciating and celebrating culture.
MM: How are you today? Are you excited for the upcoming Peninsula Picnic?
MW: I’m really well thanks. Yes, I’m super excited for this Sunday. We are in countdown mode for it now.
How do events and initiatives such as the Peninsula Picnic benefit society?
I guess the most obvious societal benefit is the sheer enjoyment that people get out of events like this. It’s something on people’s calendars that they can really look forward to. It also brings a great mixture of cultural aspects together at one gathering.
What are the most important philosophies of Montalto?
At Montalto we strive to maintain a true connection to the source. We take note and we pay respect to where everything has come from, including our own selves. We believe in a high quality of hospitality and education. We want people to leave Montalto feeling as though they have experienced something out of the ordinary and that they can’t wait to come back again.
Favourite places to eat in Sydney?
It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to eat up in old Sydney town. There are so many new places I’d love to try. Anywhere that Jeremy Strode cooks (Bistrode, The Fish Shop) is always on point. 10 William St is great. And Sixpenny in Stanmore is offering one of the best dining experiences in Sydney, let alone the country.
Favourite dishes to cook and prepare?
I love cooking with fresh fruit, vegetables and seafood. That’s not to say I don’t also enjoy meat but when I cook it generally starts with veggies.
Who are some culinary creatives that you find influential and inspiring?
When it comes to Aussie chefs I look up to people like Neil Perry, Andrew McConnel and Christine Manfield and I have always taken huge inspiration for French chefs such as Alain Ducasse and Alain Passard. The people around me constantly inspire me, my contemporaries I suppose. There is a constant strive amongst us to create and evolve.
What is the best part about working with food?
It’s hard to pinpoint the best part. I love the creativity involved in the style of food I cook. It’s certainly a lifestyle choice and commitment. It’s rewards can sometimes seem few and far between.
What do you think it the impact that good food can have on people?
Good food can change a person’s day/week/month/year etc. Without exaggerating to much, If you eat a good piece of cake, it can turn a crumby day into a great one. haha.
You seem to have lived around many different parts of the world, and you seem very well travelled. How do you think food encapsulates certain cultures and histories?
Some of my favourite cultures in the world are my favourite because of their food history. In Japan making noodles helped to survive an entire empire. In France and England people were spared of being beheaded because of their cooking ability. The food now cooked in these places still speaks of it’s origins and importance.
Have you always known you wanted to be a chef? What was the moment where it all crystallised for you?
I first thought about being a chef in my teens. However it probably wasn’t until my late teens/early twenties that I found that I had both a passion for it and that I was pretty good at it. It made me think a little more seriously about the career that i am now in as opposed to it just being money in my pocket.
What advice would you give to any budding chefs out there?
I guess just to stick with it. Cooking at any level is a bit of a roller coaster ride where it is sometimes a little tricky to determine what are the highs and what are the lows. Stay in the moment, try to enjoy yourself and keep an open mind. And remember that even if the steak gets overcooked it’s not the end of the world; there is always another steak.
With the passion and pride that he has in his food, it is easy to understand Martin Webster’s long-running success. Check out the full menu and set times for the Peninsula Picnic on their official website, where you can also purchase tickets for a day of fine dining and cultural delight.