Art, eating and sustainability come together at Faro

The future is food

Nola James meets three local innovators leading the way in sustainability, from farm to fork.

It’s not hard to throw veggie scraps in the compost. When it comes to being an industry leader in sustainable food production in Tasmania, the cost of admission is high. Whether influencing laws around ethical sourcing or supporting sustainable staffing, these operators go above and beyond what they deliver on the plate.

Go wild

More than 200,000 meals a year are served at Dubsy’s, Mona’s fast casual eatery, yet not a bio-plate or paper napkin is used. It’s all part of the museum’s ‘zero waste’ program, which sees single-use items banned across the business, from the coffee stand to fine-dining restaurant Faro.

It’s a strategy that feels more aligned with an organic cafe than one of Tasmania’s busiest cultural icons, and it’s just part of the business’ commitment to sustainability. “For us, it’s about scale,” says Vince Trim, Mona’s Executive Chef. “We’re really only at the beginning of what we can do.”

The all-in approach is largely driven by Kirsha Kaechele, wife of Mona founder David Walsh, artist and activist. She’s responsible for Tasmania’s 24 Carrot Gardens project, which teaches children from low-income schools around Tasmania to grow, harvest and cook healthy produce, and CA$H 4 GUN$ – a conceptual artwork in the form of a gun buyback scheme in New Orleans.

Vince Trim, Executive Chef at Mona

Credit: Rosie Hastie

Mona’s zero-waste program extends to its fine-dining restaurant, Faro
Kirsha Kaechele

Credit: Jo Duck

These moves are far from performative, with changes afoot that the public wouldn’t normally see. Kitchens are being transitioned from gas (a fossil fuel) to induction, for example, and the restaurant linens are air-dried.

Kirsha and Vince’s biggest triumph is ‘eat the problem’, a company-wide ban on farmed meat that has resulted in a 34 percent yearly reduction in hospitality-related carbon emissions and may well change laws.

“We’ve always had venison on the menu,” Vince says, but it was shipped in from the mainland due to Tasmania’s ban on commercial deer hunting. (As well as being a lean source of protein, hunting wild venison keeps populations in check and reduces the need for intensive farming.)

They teamed up with John Kelly of Lenah Game Meats (who supplies wild wallaby and rabbits to Mona kitchens) for a lengthy lobbying campaign that involved consultation with government ministers, recreational hunters and diners.

Persistence paid off. In April 2023, the Tasmanian Government approved a two-year-long feasibility trial to use wild-shot deer for commercial purposes. For now, at least, the venison on Vince’s menus is as Tasmanian as the pea puree, white miso and celeriac cream it’s served with.

Shima Operations Manager, Esmé Merilees.
Shima Wasabi harvests the whole plant – stem, leaves and stalk

Credit: Lily Moeller

Tasmania provides the ideal environment for growing wasabi

Credit: Lily Moeller

Rainwater riches

The natural growing environment for wasabi (the plant, not the fluoro-green paste sold in tubes) is high in the mountains of Japan, growing between rocks on the edges of rivers and streams fed by snow water.

That’s far from the farmlands of Port Sorell, where 4000 wasabi plants shelter in an unassuming greenhouse off the main highway. But at Shima Wasabi, Australia’s largest commercial wasabi farm, a hydroponic river system fed by recycled rainwater recreates the ideal conditions for growing the most expensive member of the brassicaceae family (30g will set you back around $15, which works out to around $500 a kilo).

“You’ve got to be a purist to use fresh wasabi,” says Esmé Merilees, Operations Manager at Shima. She’s the first point of contact for the chefs who fly in from across the country to see how wasabi is grown in northern Tasmania.

“In Japan, fresh wasabi production has declined because the younger generations don’t want to work on farms,” Esmé says. Plus, Australian chefs want the real deal. “There’s plenty of imitators out there.”

In addition to selling wasabi paste and powders for general consumption, custom orders are key, with the likes of Tetsuya Wakuda (Tetsuya’s) and Andrew McConnell (Supernormal) showcasing picked-to-order wasabi leaves and stems on their award-winning menus.

You’d think that such a water-loving, fragile plant would be a drain on environmental resources, but here it’s just the opposite. “Wasabi hates summer,” Esmé says, so the cool Tasmanian coast – Tasmania has an antipodal latitude to Japan – provides the perfect home away from home. All the water needed for half-hourly feedings comes straight from the sky, while misters maintain alpine conditions year round.

James Welsh
The Stillwater menu features locally grown and sustainably sourced produce

Credit: Lily Moeller

Bianca Welsh and husband Tim are solidifying the legacy of one of Launceston’s culinary icons
All in the mind

Bianca Welsh started her psychology degree in 2011, less than a year after she and husband James Welsh bought iconic Launceston restaurant Stillwater. “We had an employee living with an eating disorder, and I needed to do something to help them,” Bianca says, adding that a conversation ultimately propelled that employee to seek professional help. “In the industry usually, they’d just be written off the roster. Instead, that person stayed with us for another year, and went on to become a medical doctor.”

Bianca graduated from the psych program at UTAS in 2018, and today uses lived and learned experience to create safer, more inclusive workplaces through mental health first-aid courses for restaurant and tourism workers (in partnership with the Tasmanian Hospitality Association and the Department of State Growth) and business-specific ‘mentally healthy workplace’ sessions.

“In Australia, 75 percent of people will experience some kind of mental illness by the age of 25. And in Tasmania, almost 80 percent of the hospitality workforce is aged between 16 and 25,” Bianca says. “If we guide our young people towards better health behaviours now, then potentially and hopefully, they won’t need to be on the reactive end of the mental health system. We can catch it early.”

The restaurant industry is notoriously a hotbed of bad behaviour, with long hours, shift work and a culture of heavy drinking taking its toll. “We can understand that if we can give an ear, give people a moment to be seen, that can make a huge impact,” Bianca says.

“I have a hope for the world, at least for Australia, that we can have mental health first-aiders in every workplace.”

Tasmanian restaurants are leading the way.