Once a drum and bass vocalist and a budding audio engineer, Chef Tyler Preston has struck the right chord (see what we did there?!) with his menu at Dr Morse - a much-adored Abbotsford local with its south-east Asian bent and hawker-style Sunday sessions.
Where did your interest in food come from?
I grew up in New Zealand in Wellington, and with family and friends involved in cafes I was immersed in that culture from a young age. I moved to Australia when I was 18, and started work in the kitchen at the iconic Vegie Bar in Brunswick Street. I was there for around six years in all, between studying an Audio Engineering degree, doing loads of travel, playing gigs and making music. It was a thumping kitchen and I learnt a heap but I still wasn’t taking the cooking thing seriously. For me, working in food was something I knew, and a means to pay the bills, whilst I pursued all of the things I found more exciting.
When did being a chef become the career?
I got a part-time job at De Clieu on Gertrude Street and kind of slipped into an Executive Chef role by chance (working with Seven Seeds as well). It was very French-focused at the time, with a limited kitchen. So much of what we were doing was sous-vide, which I thought was the greatest thing ever. So I became obsessed with that way of cooking, and everything we could do with it. I had a lot of freedom and I got to create, which is what had been missing before. It gave me the ability to express something and see the result. It gave me a spark.
At that point, I’d never really trained under an accomplished chef. I felt I needed to up my skills and so I met with Ben Cooper at Chin Chin, starting at the bottom and moving around the kitchen. For a year I did a full immersion in his food, working crazy hours and becoming obsessed with south-east Asian cuisine. In Thai food, there are five or six different elements to work with. Texture, spice, sourness, crunch… it’s fresh, vibrant and it just excited me. I could see how I could apply some of these techniques to a cafe environment.
I think both of those experiences contributed to my turning point.
What has been your proudest achievement to date?
My wife George and I teamed up with the Axil Coffee guys and opened 'Sir Charles' in Fitzroy in 2015, which was kind of a dream for us. We lived in Fitzroy, and we met on the same street. George is an interior stylist so she got to oversee the build and I developed the kitchen and it was where I got to marry my café style with all the cool new Asian stuff I’d learnt. We’ve since sold the business, but it was such a memorable experience.
How has Dr Morse carved out its niche?
Given my love for south-east Asian food, pretty much everything here has that element to it. When you’re creating a menu it has to be with no ego. There are still moments when I think “Gee, I really want to do this!” but then you need to ask “But do the people really want that?”. It’s always difficult to let go of something that you’re passionate about and personally believe in. I have a great connection to this place, but I wouldn’t call this my own food. It’s been an organic process to create our menu and what we offer, responding to and growing with our clientele and the culture that they have really created. It’s a menu that really belongs to this space. I’d call it Dr Morse’s food.
What is it about Real Eggs?
I like to know where our food is coming from – that there is a face to it. I have used companies before who source their eggs from lots of different farms and put their stamp on it. But that’s like meeting someone and never meeting their family – it’s not natural. To know where it comes from, to have met Paul, is really important to me. The product is amazing… I used to use eggs that I thought were very good, but using Real Eggs I now know what very good is, and what very good isn’t. It just feels right.
What makes you happiest at work?
There’s not one thing that makes me really stoked. It’s the process and all the micro examples of that. You’ll come in one morning and bake some muffins and they’re fresh and you put them in the window and people snap them up. Awesome. You poach the perfect egg. That’s awesome. You might see hundreds of these moments during the day. Those are the rewards.
What’s on the to-do list for 2018?
Being a great dad to my two kids (Rio, 3 years old, and Phoenix, 3 months). Continuing to build a positive and sustainable kitchen where chefs can come and express themselves, be positive, and have a good work-life balance. I have some really great talent and I want to learn more from my chefs. I also want to be a better baker. I really enjoyed baking with my dad when I was a kid so I’d like to foster the same with my kids. And keeping Dr Morse moving forward – refining what we do and learning how to be a better manager – growing my professional acumen.
On The Menu
Dr Morse Benedict (pictured). Real Eggs which are soft boiled then chilled, peeled, panko-crumbed and deep fried. Served with house made crispy roti and spicy hollandaise with house smoked salmon.
Dr Morse. 274 Johnston Street, Abbotsford.