Master chef works his magic
AWARD-winning chef Ash Martin creates some of Queensland's finest cuisine.
But there was a time when the 29-year-old felt like he never wanted to cook again.
"I did some work experience when I was in Year 9 and had some really bad chefs look after me," he said. "For a time, it completely turned me off the prospect of a career in the kitchen."
Fortunately for food lovers everywhere, his appetite to discover the wonderful world of cooking proved irresistible.
As the new head chef of Cotton's Restaurant at Spicers Hidden Vale, Martin is now showcasing his culinary talents in Grandchester.
With more than a decade of experience, Martin wasted no time in pursing his dream to be a chef when he finished high school.
"I went straight into my apprenticeship, working at this small, wood-fire pizza place," he said. "But I wasn't really satisfied there. I enjoyed the more finicky side of food preparation and wanted to be in a fine dining environment."
His ambition prompted a move 150km south to the culinary capital of Australia - Melbourne - where he spent 10 years working with some of the best chefs in the business.
"It was a massive environment change," he said. "The hours were long and the atmosphere was stressful - I loved it.
"I finished my apprenticeship at one of Melbourne's best restaurants called Taxi Dining Room which was a two-hat restaurant.
"I also worked at the Courthouse Hotel in North Melbourne which specialised in fine French cuisine."
Martin said his move to Queensland was prompted because he wanted to spend more time with his wife, Andrea. He met her in Melbourne.
That and the warmer weather.
"My wife was a lawyer who worked long hours in the day, and I would work into the night," he said. "We had been married for two years, but we hardly got to spend any time together.
"So we both quit our jobs in the city and made the move to Queensland to work at the Spicers Peak Lodge in Maryvale."
The luxury mountain-top retreat is the highest non-alpine lodge in Australia, located about 2200m above sea level.
Martin worked as the head chef at The Peak restaurant, and Andrea worked as front of house staff.
"Travelling from Victoria, we'd been looking forward to the warmer change in weather," he said. "But since we lived so high up in the mountain, the nights were just as cold."
The change in location did however allow Martin to explore a "paddock to plate" style of cooking that focused on locally-sourced, seasonal and sustainable ingredients.
"The paddock to plate concept was massive out there," he said. "At a lot of restaurants in the city, you phone up, order your food, it comes through the back door and you don't really consider how it was made, or where it came from.
"But out in these regional locations, you can track the food and speak with farmers, butchers and other local food producers.
"And those people are really passionate about what they do, and know everything about their product.
"As a chef, it helps me choose the best ingredients to work with to create the best quality food."
Martin's cuisine at The Peak saw him awarded a Chef's Hat by The Australian Good Food Guide and the Brisbane Times Good Food Guide.
The venue also won Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year by the Savour Restaurant and Caterers Awards and also Brisbane's Restaurant of the Year.
But after 18 months, Martin said he felt he had achieved everything he wanted to at The Peak and became eager to move again.
Only this time, it wasn't interstate - only 100km away, to Cotton's Restaurant at Spicers Hidden Vale in Grandchester.
"While employed at The Peak, I had dined at Cotton's a few times and saw the potential to implement some of my ideas there," he said.
"When I heard the restaurant's head chef was leaving, I put my hand up to take on the role."
Martin made the move with his former Peak Lodge sous chef Simon Treller and chef de partie Emma Parker.
The team has now been at Cotton's for three months and said he was excited by the location of Hidden Vale as one of the most fertile farming areas in the Southern Hemisphere.
His food is sourced from local farmers and suppliers such as Pilton Valley Premium Pork, Barnyard Game Birds and the Mulgowie markets.
"We can hand select our suppliers with a focus on natural, humane and organic processes," he said. "My menus change with the seasons, trends and also with discoveries of local farming gems."
"Consumers are becoming more aware and they want to know where their food has come from, how it was raised and how far it has travelled."
With his wife working beside him as restaurant manager, Martin plans to take Cotton's to the same heights reached at The Peak.
Bookings phone 1300 179 340.