Matt Preston can’t get enough of WA.
So much so that whenever the opportunity arises for the esteemed food critic turned MasterChef Australia judge to head west, he makes up a list of the local restaurants, bars and eateries he wants to visit.
While in town last month, the 57-year-old raved about Perth’s ever-evolving food scene, going as far as dropping the names of several places he planned to visit during his stay.
“I think the beauty of Western Australia has always been ... Perth’s food scene is unlike anywhere else. It was totally unique because of the isolation over here,” he said.
“We went to Mechanics (Institute Bar), which is one of my favourite places to come. And so I think that whole thing, of that kind of explosion of individualism that represents the Perth food scene, is so exciting.
“When I come here, I really don’t want to go to a restaurant where the chef isn’t really from here. It’s the same experience I’d get in Sydney or Melbourne ... and the best experiences we had here were in King Somm, Si Paradiso, Lulu La Delizia ... that’s quintessentially what Perth’s about right now.”
In May, Preston and fellow judges Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris were in WA to film episodes for WA Week, which kicked off at Optus Stadium last night.
Tonight, contestants head to COMO the Treasury’s rooftop restaurant Wildflower to prepare a five-course degustation showcasing local ingredients under the guidance of head chef Matt Sartori.
Also set to feature this week is Sandalford Winery in the Swan Valley, Rottnest Island and Margaret River wineries Leeuwin Estate and Voyager Estate.
“I’m not a fan of chain restaurants, you want to celebrate stuff that is uniquely local, and that’s what we do when we come over here for MasterChef, we make a list of what we need to do here and can’t do anywhere else,” he said. “There’s so much stuff in terms of produce, locations ... it’s an interesting dilemma we get with the amount of development Perth has had. When I travel, that’s what I want.”
Not only has the show help put Perth and greater WA on the map, it’s also established the profiles of local chefs and producers on a national and international scale.
“MasterChef brought lots of different chefs from all over into the mainstream, so you started to get a feel for who the big names were over here,” Preston said.
“And doing things like WA Week, we confirmed that when you’re meeting Matt (Sartori) and names like Hadleigh Troy are also a good example. But when I first started writing about food, and I mentioned Hadleigh Troy, you would have gone ‘Who?’”
Preston adds that MasterChef has also helped uniquely WA produce become sought-after ingredients.
“People are into food in a way that they weren’t 20 years ago,” he said. “They want to come and eat marron, they want to come and have the octopus they’ve had at a restaurant because it’s come from Fremantle and I think they’re also searching out things like Arkady lamb or they’re looking at Delicious Produce Awards to see what ingredients to try, like Geraldton wax, which was something that was on MasterChef three years ago and it’s become a thing now.”
Preston holds high hopes for WA contestant Derek Lau who was eliminated last week but revealed plans to open his own Asian tapas bar in Perth.
The Perth financial analyst is set to follow in the footsteps of past contestants Karmen Lu, who opened her dessert bar Measure with partner Ryan Mitchell in 2017, Brendan Pang, who launched his Fremantle- based dumplings kitchen Bumplings Perth this month and Jenny Lam, who opened her busy Leederville restaurant Bun Mee last year.
“Perth is amazing in terms of the way it supports past contestants,” Preston said.
“Whether it’s Wade’s (Drummond) crumpets or Pete Morgan coming back here to do stuff, it’s really good to see.
“It’s their hard work and their inspiration that makes things happen.
“But you’ve got that tiny dad moment where you’ve had a tiny role in helping them start on that road.”
WA Week features on MasterChef Australia until Thursday at 7.30pm on Ten/WIN.