Laura’s Phil Wood has found that the key to relaxed entertaining comes straight from the farm.
Phil Wood has a dark secret. The executive chef at Laura, our New Restaurant of the Year, is a fan of the sun-dried tomato.
“I know it’s bad but I can’t help it,” he says. “I just love a sun-dried tomato. And they make this salad. They add a touch of spring.” The salad in question, a warm Greek-style mix of calamari, potatoes, olives, oregano and, yes, sun-dried tomatoes, is part of a lunch he has pulled together at his house for a group of pals who all live on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. Wood moved to the Peninsula from Sydney with his partner Lis Davies last year after he landed the gig as executive chef at Pt Leo Estate’s ambitious new restaurant project. He’s happy he did.
“We have more space here than in Sydney so we tend to entertain at home more,” he says. “Plus it’s so nice to pull together a lunch or dinner down here because you can go to all the farm gates, and get to know the different producers, and then go to all the cellar doors to buy wine on the way home. It’s great to be able to buy directly from people who have grown or produced what they’re selling.”
It’s not surprising, then, that the recipes Wood presents here are influenced by the produce and producers he’s met through sourcing ingredients for Pt Leo Estate’s two restaurants, Laura and Pt Leo Restaurant.
There are mussels from Port Philip Bay, steamed with the herbs and shiitake mushrooms he sources from nearby Tyabb. Or snapper, also pulled from the Bay and cooked with basil pistou, lemon juice and olive oil, all grown in the region. The chèvre in the pea salad, meanwhile, is made at a goat dairy in Main Ridge.
Wood also taps into other influences for his lunch. His slow-cooked lamb is a tribute to the Scottish and English who were the first Europeans to settle in the region, while the Mediterranean influences are a tribute to the large Greek and Italian populations who live and holiday on the Mornington Peninsula.
He’s also helping out his new mates. One of his lunch guests, Richard Hawkes, grew the kipflers in that potato salad.
“It’s another thing I like about living here,” he says. “A lot of the farmers are around my age and have become mates. And you know when you invite them for lunch, they’re probably going to turn up with something delicious that they’ve grown.”
Pt Leo Estate, 3649 Frankston-Flinders Rd, Merricks, Vic, (03) 5989 9011, ptleoestate.com.au