To Ben Way, the month of August can't come soon enough.
Always excited to share his passion for Port Stephens and its seafood, the month-long Love Sea Food Festival held throughout August is one of the Nelson Bay chef's favourite events of the year.
But this year, with Love Sea Food and other crowd pleaser, Tastes at the Bay, combining, Way is more excited than ever.
"I can't wait for it. It's going to be a great month," Way, a chef and co-owner of Little Beach Boathouse, said. "The value in combining these two festivals is huge.
"Instead of having two forces going towards the one goal, you're uniting them and creating greater potential and celebration.
"The Love Sea Food and Taste festival, for me, is not about one restaurant showing off what they're good at. It's about one region showing off what it's got, what it can do.
"The festival is not just a celebration to get people to come here and visit and try what we do. It's also for the people who are here and running the same race to get together and celebrate what we've got."
Destination Port Stephens launched the month-long Love Sea Food Festival in August 2016 to "celebrate all that we love about seafood in Port Stephens".
Tastes at the Bay, traditionally held on the first weekend in November by Tomaree Business Chamber, was incorporated into the seafood festival at the start of 2019.
Tomaree Business Chamber president Leah Anderson told the Examiner in April that the success of Tastes had varied over the years and a fresh approach was necessary.
It was decided to move Tastes back to August to round out the Love Sea Food month of festivities.
"August is the most exciting time all year to experience a taste of the local food and lifestyle now that Love Sea Food and Tastes at The Bay have come together," Eileen Gilliland, chief executive officer of Destination Port Stephens, said.
Throughout August, select restaurants around Nelson Bay will feature special festival lunch and dinner menus aimed at showcasing the Port's fresh and abundant seafood.
The Love Sea Food and Taste festival, for me, is not about one restaurant showing off what they're good at. It's about one region showing off what it's got, what it can do.- Ben Way
There will also weekly seafood-themed cooling masterclasses held by chefs from The Poyer's (Lemon Tree Passage), The Anchorage (Corlette), Rick Stein Bannisters Port Stephens (Salamander Bay), In House Kitchen and Blueys restaurant (Nelson Bay).
The first festival event will be the popular Port to Plate gala dinner, which will be held at Broughtons at the Bay on August 3.
This event sees chefs from the Port join forces to create a unique seafood-inspired dining experience for 300-plus people. Way said this gala dinner was one of his favourite aspects to the festival.
This year he will be in the kitchen cooking alongside Ludovic Poyer from The Poyer's, Mitchell Turner from Bannister Port Stephens, Michael Jenkins from The Anchorage and Stacey Cleaver from A Sweet Ride Called Clyde.
"When I was first approached by the Love Sea Food organisers about the gala dinner back in 2016 there was no other answer but 'yes'," Way said.
"The organisers were talking about putting Port Stephens on the map for seafood and with my passion for both Port Stephens and seafood, there wasn't much else to say.
"When I first came to Port Stephens, in the first year of [Little Beach Boathouse] being open in 2014 I tried to organise some sort of dinner like this, a collaboration between chefs in the area, but it just didn't work.
"I don't think it was the right time. I feel like by the time Love Sea Food was established in 2016 the attitude towards collaborating was a bit different.
"In its first year the gala dinner was very popular. Ludovic, Mat Key [The Little Nel] and I were involved in the first one. When we're in the kitchen, the chefs in the gala dinner, we're all enjoying it and each other's company. It's one of my favourite services of the year.
"After three years of working with Ludovic, I've gotten to know him quite well. I'm always texting with Michael from the Anchorage and Mitch from Bannisters. There's a lot of banter.
"This is kind of what I always wanted for the area, anyway. Chefs collaborating and sharing their passion. The passion we all share isn't just about putting good food on plates or giving someone a good experience.
"We're here because we love Port Stephens... and what it has to offer in terms of the amazing customers, locals, fishermen and the amazing seafood in general which is absolutely phenomenal."
The Tastes Port Stephens food, wine and jazz weekend will round out the month. It replaces the fish and fun weekend traditionally held as part of the Love Sea Food festival. It will be held in Nelson Bay on Saturday, August 31 and Sunday, September 1.
The region's many oyster growing families and artisan producers will join together on this weekend to offer tastings and sales of their seasonal best from market stalls in the Nelson Bay CBD and d'Albora Marinas.
Also on offer will be free and live jazz performances and cooking demonstrations. Moonshadow-TQC Cruises will once again be offering its popular jazz luncheon cruise.
Way said he was looking forward to hosting cooking demonstrations on the Tastes weekend.
"I enjoy the cooking demonstrations," he said. "My favourite part is when people ask me questions. It's all about having value, those kind of things.
"I try to do something at the demonstrations where [the public] can take something home and do it themselves.
"After three years of doing demonstrations, you see a few of the same faces. Someone will come up and tell me that they tried or still cook what I demonstrated last year, which is awesome."