After 46 years, Leon Toy is still endeavouring to keep things fresh and interesting.
Each year, he travels to China, the US, Hong Kong or Canada to see how the food in these nations is changing. He then uses these ideas to improve the offerings at his eatery, Toy's Garden restaurant.
"I still study: The menu has changed by about 90 per cent since I opened - except for the fried rice and beef and black bean," he said.
"I know because I still have the original menus! I reckon I have changed the palate of Horsham.
"One time I went up to the far northwest of China near the Russian border to see what they eat over there. People are pretty fussy now, they want something different, so I took some flavours from there and introduced Mongolian Beef to the menu."
Mongolian Beef is typically made with soy sauce, brown sugar and ginger among other ingredients.
Born in rural China, in a small village west of the megacity Guangzhou in 1949, Mr Toy left China aged two for Hong Kong.
"When I was born, my father Stan left China, so I didn't meet him until I was 10 years old and he came and visited Hong Kong," he said.
Mr Toy said it was weird at first. "It was just, I don't know, 'Well OK there's my father'," he said.
He travelled to Australia as a 12-year-old, joining a family that was already well-established in western Victoria.
"I had two brothers, Joseph and Damien, that were already here," he said. "My mother Nin How came out in 1965, so we all came over in different stages.
"My mum raised me in Hong Kong, so it was challenging (leaving). Hong Kong is a big city, so to come to Warracknabeal was a big change: The town still had dunnies, not much service and water was boiled in copper kettles.
"My grandfather, Ah Foon, went back to Hong Kong in the 50s, and he had been out here since the early 1900s. He and all his brothers were based in Warracknabeal and Stawell.
Mr Toy said his descendants came to Australia to work in market gardens in the region, growing vegetables.
"I was in Ararat this time last year, and I learned we are part of the Cantonese community that discovered gold in Ararat," he said. "We are one of the families that stuck around here."
Mr Toy has since visited his place of birth several times, saying it has now developed to the point where a bullet train stops in the town.
Mr Toy began the restaurant in 1974, aged 24, on Firebrace Street, between Roberts Avenue and McLachlan Street. At the restaurant, he cooked along side his father Stan.
He moved to his current, more verdant location on Stawell Road in October 1987.
Before the restaurant, he worked for four years as a chef at Mrs Chan, a restaurant in Brighton in Melbourne's southeast.
"I preferred a regional area over Melbourne so I decided to start a restaurant in Horsham," he said.
"Before I started there was one Chinese restaurant in town, Poon Ming, but they closed their doors 20 or 30 years ago."
In the past year, Hong Kong has been the site of pro-democracy protests, while the Chinese Communist Party in power on the mainland has introduced new security laws on the autonomous region.
Mr Toy said he had witnessed some protests on his recent "study" visits to the city.
"They are a bit worrying. Normal people want to live peacefully, but the protests interrupt the normal livelihood. That's how I look at it," he said.
The coronavirus pandemic has closed Mr Toy's dining room, and in response it has started Tap & Go Take Away.
Mr Toy said he had also not noticed any increase in racism or anti-Chinese sentiment since the coronavirus pandemic began in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
"The people have been really good here," he said.
Now 70, Mr Toy is hoping for someone driven and dedicated to hospitality to take over and carve out their own 40-year career.
"My family is busy what they are good at, and no one has put their hand up yet," he said.
Mr Toy's daughter Melika helps in the kitchen and has done so for the past 20 years. Another daughter, Magnolia, lives in Torquay at works at Deakin university, while his son Victor is a project manager in the building industry in Melbourne.
"I've been very fortunate and I'm very proud of them," he said.
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