Martin Boetz, head chef at one hat restaurant Longrain Melbourne, will be a featured restaurant at this year’s Taste of Melbourne festival. We chatted and laughed our way through the interview, touching on Martin’s inspirations, Thai food’s popularity, Sydney versus Melbourne's food cultures and his new status as a celebrity chef.
Martin Boetz, like many other Australians, was not born in Australia. He was born in Germany, with his family coming to Australia when he was at a young age. Martin, like many other successful chefs, knew what he wanted to do very early on in his life. He left school after year 10 and started a cooking apprenticeship. As has been written in numerous articles, Martin’s love of Thai food developed when he worked with David Thompson at Darley Street Thai. From there, he further refined his Thai cooking skills at Sailors Thai, and then finally the now famous Longrain.
Asked to describe his inspirations, cooking style and Thai food’s popularity, Martin expressed that it all had to do with the same thing, using fresh ingredients and blending them to create a balance of flavours. Martin’s current inspirations lie in using smaller producers and suppliers for his meat, seafood and vegetables to obtain the highest quality ingredients. He goes to the fruit and veg markets twice a week to get fresh produce and has developed an excellent relationship with his seafood monger. All this freshness has led to his restaurant Longrain in both Sydney and Melbourne being extremely popular, as well as Thai food in general. Martin suggests that it’s because Thai food is a bit more complex in flavour and harder to make from scratch at home, hence people like to dine out on it.
With Martin’s restaurants being so popular, I asked him if he had any future plans to further expand. He said the Sydney Longrain will have the bar area moved downstairs, as well as some of Martin’s products of sauces and pastes also being made in the Sydney location. In Melbourne, the bar will move upstairs to a new level and also serve more casual food. The current bar area downstairs will be turned into more seating. This led me to ask whether it would be easier for me to get a table due to the no booking policy at Longrain. Martin’s opinion on the no booking policy is that it works for his restaurants. He sees his restaurants as providing a complete experience such that people can come in and have a drink while waiting for their table, and when they’ve finished eating, sit in the lounge/bar areas to continue talking and having some drinks.
Talking about the two Longrains, in Melbourne and Sydney, I asked Martin what he thought about the two cities food cultures and which was better. Martin wouldn’t be drawn into saying which one was better, citing that Melbourne contained great Italian, Greek and Vietnamese food, whilst Sydney had great Chinese and Thai food. Each city had its own food culture and feel. I asked Martin what his favourite restaurants and food style were in either cities. He said that he loves Italian food actually, rustic Italian cooking. This led Martin to say that he was actually going to Italy for a holiday in a couple of weeks time. I said that he would have lots of Italian food to eat then. He agreed, but said after a week of Italian food though, he would crave Thai food. I cracked up laughing, and told him that while I was in Italy recently, after 4 days of Italian food, I too wanted some Thai food for some strange reason. I then, coincidentally, bumped into a Thai guy at my hostel, the first Thai I met all trip. We scoured the whole city of Rome trying to find a Thai restaurant to no luck. Martin laughed at that, and said, “after a week of Italian food, f***, just give me some Thai food”, and we both continued laughing.
While still laughing, I asked Martin about his new status as a celebrity chef and his whole Masterchef experience. Martin laughed that off, and thought there were no bad points to being a celebrity chef, but he doesn’t think of himself as that. That doesn’t mean that he won’t occasionally get offered the best table in the restaurant though since people now know of him from Masterchef. Speaking of the show, he said that it has a huge pull and people do have to “play the game” a little, but he would still be happy to go back on as he learnt a lot off it, such as how to deal with a large TV production. He said that when he first went on, he was so nervous. Then Poh came up to him and said “you don’t do that much television do you?” to which Martin replied that he hadn’t, and Poh said “it shows.” We start laughing at this point. And Martin said that in his mind he was thinking “darn it, I don’t like you”, or more colourful words to that effect. Coincidentally, he was recently on Poh’s kitchen and the first thing he said to her was “do you remember your first words to me?” Poh remembered and Martin asked her if he had improved since then. I’ve just watched the episode in question and agree with Poh that Martin is definitely much more relaxed. And for the record, he and Poh are on good terms, with Martin explaining that Poh is a fun person and great for TV, with her bubbly demeanour, outgoing personality and good looks being ideal.
I asked Martin about his own aspirations of persuing a TV or media career. He said he wasn’t really interested. “I miss really cooking, so many other things to do (now)”. “Chefs aren’t just there to cook, hold down their own. They need to be computer literate, business savvy, PR orientated, watch your mouth.” We both agreed that for a restaurant business to be really successful now, chefs have to be across a lot of different fields, or hire the right people to be. This led me to ask Martin whether he was involved in any forms of social media. Martin doesn’t actively participate in any form of social media, and rarely participates passively either. He doesn’t like to read blogs too often as a lot can be hurtful. He indicated that some are good, but there are also a lot of amateur ones, who are pretending to be food critics and feel they are informed because they watched an episode of Masterchef. He tries his best to make every dish perfect, but since he cannot personally make every dish, he can only trust in the processes and teams he has implemented. Obviously, constructive feedback is welcomed, but just to complain about every dish without a reason is useless.
My interview with Martin wrapped up with a discussion of what he would be presenting at Taste of Melbourne. Unfortunately, Martin won’t be in town during Taste of Melbourne. He will be in Italy happily eating his Italian food for a week before throwing it in and trying to find some Thai food. It was an absolute pleasure to talk to Martin, and the Poh story is one of the most hilarious and honest I’ve heard from any chef. I hope that I can speak to Martin again in the future and experience more of his wicked sense of humour. I’ll definitely be trying his delicious sounding dishes at Taste of Melbourne. See you all there.
Taste of Melbourne
1. Entree – Sweet brioche bun with salted crispy pork, prawn and pickled vegetables.
2. Main – Tajima wagyu yellow curry, kipfler potato and cucumber relish.
3. Dessert – Vanilla tapioca, poached pear and jackfruit.
Thanks to Lizzy Ee of Hot House Media for helping to arrange the interview.