He decided to take his skills to Gippsland to create Sardine. 'We just wanted to do something different but bring all the years of knowledge, all the background, and celebrate the amazing produce in our style, which is something a little bit different.'
Again, it all comes back to the ingredients. 'I truly believe food should be honest and the ingredients should be celebrated […] If it's an amazing cauliflower, showcase it, make that the star.'
Learning of the local abundance offered by Gippsland's producers, he describes it as ‘a wow moment’. Farm fresh Forge Creek eggs, Mrs Beazer’s lemons, Raymond Island honey, smoked black garlic and beach herbs all play a role in the menu at Sardine.
'All these tiny little ingredients that play such a big part [in] our restaurant, and it's right on your doorstep. So we've sort of followed the produce to its home. It's life-changing.'
Mark talks about letting the ingredients tell their own story. 'I'm proud as a chef to be able to cook with these amazing ingredients and put [them] on a plate.'
'It's about celebrating the food that’s here. We're so lucky with the produce we have on our doorstep.'
The inspiration for the day's menu often comes with an early-morning call from Lakes Entrance fisherman Harry, letting Mark know what has been caught overnight.
'That first phone call at 5am, you know what you've got coming through the door. You know it's just been caught, you know it's fresh. That really sets you up. The brain starts ticking, you can't go back to sleep. You just want to get in the kitchen and use what you've caught that day.'
After Mark collects the fresh fish from the dock, it's on the trip back to the restaurant where the magic starts to happen.
'That's when you get to think about what you're going to do and how you're going to use this amazing ingredient. It might be mackerel; it might be Australian salmon. There's always something new, always something exciting […] That drive home, your mind is just racing: how can you celebrate this, what can you do [with the ingredients],' he explains.