When Neil Perry's former right-hand man, chef Phil Wood, left Sydney to head up the Gandel family's ambitious Pt Leo Estate project on the Mornington Peninsula in 2017, Victorians couldn't help crowing about their gain.
Now, having put the winery restaurant and sculpture park firmly on the map, it's NSW turn to cheer, as Wood prepares to return to Sydney, finishing up his role as Pt Leo Estate's culinary director on March 28.
Roger Lancia, general manager of Pt. Leo Estate, said in a statement: "We were incredibly lucky to lure Phil to Victoria four years ago and he played a huge part in putting Pt. Leo Estate on the map as one of Australia's best food, wine and cultural destinations.
"We are sad to see him go but understand his decision to move back to friends and family in Sydney with his wife."
Citing family and personal reasons for his departure, the New Zealand-born chef says he does not yet have any career plans but says his cooking style has been fundamentally changed by his regional sojourn. "The produce on the peninsula is so great that it simplified my cooking."
Meeting the producers also meant he wanted to present their hard work to its best advantage. "The peninsula is a remarkable part of Australia, and I will miss the amazing producers, growers and winemakers I have met."
Wood says he will particularly miss Main Ridge cheese, Cape Schanck olive oil, peninsula berries and cherries – and Lau's Family Kitchen in St Kilda, where he and wife Lis have become regulars.
In his time with the business, Wood launched the hugely successful modern bistro Pt. Leo Dining Room and its elegant set-menu sibling Laura. They held one and two hats respectively in the most recent Good Food Guide.
His biggest achievement, he says, was opening two restaurants within the space of a year. "It was thrilling."
Wood's final service will be March 28. A new culinary director has yet to be announced. ptleoestate.com.au