Chef Martin Duncan is passionate about French desserts, gardening, hospitality, art and watching chooks roam around the garden. Somehow he has managed to combine these passions into one versatile and popular dessert restaurant, appropriately named Freestyle Tout (the word tout is French for ‘all’).
Duncan doesn’t believe in waiting passively for people to find an excuse to visit his restaurant. His website bombards you with a dozen good reasons to meet up with friends at Freestyle Tout. Book groups are welcome to gather and discuss their latest book over tapas and wine between 5pm and 7pm on weekdays. Keen gardeners can attend the ‘Garden to Plate’ series of talks and workshops, every third Sunday of the month from 10am to 12 midday. Or women can celebrate a hen’s party or baby shower with a stylish high tea with the option of a professional tarot reading.
Encouraging a range of groups at different times is good for business, says Duncan. “The book groups are in before the dinner crowd, so we attract a whole new market just when we’d be quiet and preparing for dinner. It’s cost-effective for the book groups, and good fun… a nice change from taking turns to worry about the catering.”
The menu at Freestyle Tout boasts a formidable range of savoury platters and desserts. “We primarily specialise in desserts, and we have 25 desserts on the menu,” Duncan says. “And we do a lot of share plates to offer something savoury beforehand.” Duncan began his career as an apprentice savoury chef but he followed his natural inclination to become a dessert chef. “My favourite is the crème brulee,” Duncan says. “It has all the romance of French food – it’s so light and naughty.”
Versatility in the hospitality industry can be costly and time-consuming, so Duncan benefits from hiring rather than buying restaurant equipment. “I’ve had a nice partnership with Silver Chef [the hospitality equipment funding business] for about fifteen years. At one point, I was running three restaurants and Silver Chef has always been reliable, making it easy for me to get what I need. You can do what you’re good at with whatever equipment you need.”
Duncan’s innovative hospitality doesn’t stop with Freestyle Tout but spills over to include Freestyle Escape, two holiday houses on the Sunshine Coast Hinterland. Here, Duncan hosts cooking and art classes, or leaves you free to enjoy a hens’ day, a laidback weekend with friends, or team building exercises with colleagues. The two Freestyle businesses intertwine and support each other: for example, the two hundred fruit trees at Freestyle Escape provide Freestyle Tout with fresh home-made produce. Most important of all, Freestyle Escape offers the dauntless host an opportunity to wind down.
”It’s a great escape,” Duncan says. “I love being up on the property, just watching the chooks run around.”