Food for thought in Tasmania

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The foodie movement in Tasmania is in full swing and there is no better time to treat your taste buds to the incredible produce shaping menus on the southerly isle than during winter.

On a visit to Tassie during the coldest, yet cosiest of seasons, Adam Liaw, author of five cookbooks and host of SBS's Destination Flavour, invites us on a road trip from Launceston to Devonport, where another former Masterchef-contestant-turned-TV-host, Ben Milbourne, welcomes us to his restaurant, CharlotteJack.

"Every restaurant is collaborating with local farmers, using local produce," says Adam. "Almost everyone here has that sense of community."

Adam and Ben talk Tassie food and visit Shima Wasabi farm.

The morning begins with breakfast at Bryher where the seasonal menu - that delights Adam, particularly the Bryher rarebit with leeks and Pyengana cheddar - includes ingredients sourced only from local farmers, including Ashgrove Cheese eggs from C & J Olson, coffee from Provenance Coffee Co. and sourdough from Apiece Bakery.

The 90-minute drive north west to Devonport is picturesque; all rolling hills, farming plots and roaming cows, sheep and horses emerging through the dawn mist. On arrival, at the spot on the map where the Mersey River meets Bass Strait, the air suddenly feels southerly. It's here that the Spirit of Tasmania docks daily, and excited passengers arriving from Melbourne begin their north-west adventures.

CharlotteJack – named after Ben's two children, Charlotte and Jack – is just moments from the port, housed in Providore Place Food Pavilion. In addition to live music, kids activities and art installations, the Pavilion is home to twice-weekly farmers markets. It's the perfect placement for a restaurant that dedicates its interchangeable menu to the fresh fruit and veg local stallholders drop off at the front door.


"Ben's really lucky to have a relationship with the growers who supply his restaurant," says Adam. "It's not just coming up with an idea and ordering ingredients, it's a community-type arrangement. Every dish on the menu comes from a relationship that Ben has with somebody nearby."

The restaurant, which opened less than a year ago, describes itself as a celebration of food and a sustainable, social enterprise that's committed to improving their impact on the environment by reducing food scraps with a nose-to-tail / root-to-tip menu.

All produce is sourced from within a 50-kilometre radius, cementing the menu as a tribute to the farmers, fishers, growers and winemakers of this impressively fertile region. All dishes intentionally use minimal ingredients, allowing the flavours to sing for themselves.

One of the ingredients dialling up Ben's minimalist dishes is wasabi, and it's grown right here in Tasmania at the Shima Wasabi farm.

Adam Liaw at Shima Wasabi farm.
Adam Liaw at the Shima Wasabi farm in Tasmania.

"When you think of wasabi you wouldn't think of Tasmania, but the environment is perfect for it," says Ben, who uses the entire plant on his dishes - stem, leaf, flower and root. "It's quite versatile. Freshly grated wasabi is totally different to what you'd expect."

The food philosophy in every dish has its roots in the farm-to-fork movement and avoids over-cooking. Ben says the food available from local growers is the only thing that influences what they cook in the kitchen. "One of our main growers, a guy named Travis from Exton, we never know what he'll drop off, but it'll decide our menu for the week. If we get carrots, they'll go on the menu, and if we get beetroot or finger fennel or daikon, that'll go on. We rely on who turns up that week and drops stuff off."

Ben's support of local growers extends to his patronage of Produce to the People, a local not-for-profit hothouse that grows micro herbs including nasturtiums, edible flowers and pea tendrils. "You'll see pea tendrils on every single dish and that's so we can buy as many as possible from Produce to the People to ensure we provide them with funds to keep doing what they do," notes Ben, adding that the food hub is also a place where people down on their luck can go to for free food twice a week.

That sense of community that's thriving in Devonport, and all over Tasmania, is inescapable. Everyone knows each other by name and is happy to talk to you about 'their' Tassie.

"Ask five people what they like to do, and you'll get five different answers," says Ben, who recommends arriving without a plan. "Within an hour you'll have 10 unique places to visit that you've never heard of before."

It's those things that visitors don't know about that you'll want to see. It's how you'll write your own Tasmanian story.

Ben's top 5 for Devonport

Expect homestyle cooking at CharlotteJack.
Expect homestyle cooking at CharlotteJack restaurant in Devonport, Tasmania.

Coffee: "Fundamental. I've travelled everywhere, and it's the best coffee I've ever had, anywhere in the world. Tom, the owner, is very serious about it."

Explore: "Devonport Regional Gallery, housed in an old church, has really good exhibitions all year 'round."

Shopping: "The Antique Emporium is somewhere you can lose yourself for hours."

Lunch: "Mrs Jones, for food on the waterfront and amazing views of Bluff Beach."

Dinner: "CharlotteJack. I want you to feel like you've come to my house for dinner."

Come thrive on winter in Tasmania