Picking up fresh ingredients for dinner on the way to work is very different matter on remote Flinders Island in Bass Strait than it is elsewhere.
According to chef Mikey Yeo, foraging for wild herbs, abundant on the island off the north-eastern tip of Tasmania, is one of the perks of living in such an isolated place.
He moved to the island last year to take up a position at the Flinders Wharf Shed at Whitemark after previous stints on Green Island in north Queensland and on Rottnest Island in Western Australia.
The restaurant, also home to a whisky distillery, overlooks the wild waters of Bass Strait where an array of seafood is plucked from the ocean, including octopus, crayfish, sea urchin, and abalone.
“This wild fennel grows up at Emita Beach; I just picked that on the way to work,” Mr Yeo said.
“It’s beautiful. Less subtle and more fragrant that the larger fennel.”
Mr Yeo said he also enjoyed working with Australian salmon.
“The locals use it for bait, but it’s a beautiful fish when it’s caught fresh. Superb.”
Mr Yeo has also made a concerted effort to source as much local produce from the land — encouraging locals to grow seasonal lines of vegetables and herbs.
“I work closely with the farmers and I’ve given them a product list,” he said.
“They come in once a week and say: ‘I’ve got a surplus of pumpkin, swede, finger carrot’ and we use that on our menu.”
Local lamb, beef, pheasant, and even Cape Barren geese have been featured.
Low food mile farming
Libby and Rob McMahon saw a gap in the market for local vegetables when they moved to the island permanently in 2018.
The horticulturalists, originally from Seaford, near Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, purchased their property 15 years ago and used it primarily as a holiday home.
Today their garden is brimming with produce, including baby Japanese turnips, beans, beetroot, heirloom carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli.
Ms McMahon said the weather on Flinders Island could be unforgiving for growing vegetables.
“We did underestimate how difficult it would be,” she said.
“We put up tin for the wind, which we got from the tip, and we’ve got wire around the top of it.”
The pair use biodynamic and permaculture principles and stick to natural fertilisers.
Three years ago Gail Grace set up her market garden business, Straits Vegetables, in Lady Barron at the southern end of the island.
She supplies Flinders Wharf and other retail outlets with fruit, vegetables, and eggs.
“They adjust menus to what is available seasonally and it’s been a great relationship,” Ms Grace said.
“I like to play with things that are tried and true, but I’d also like to put banana trees in.
“Last year we tried sweet potato and we got a massive crop.”
Back at the restaurant on the Whitemark wharf, Mr Yeo is busy slicing up the wild fennel he picked that morning.
He tosses it into a bubbling pot of rice seasoned with sea urchin roe and cheese which will be rolled into arancini balls.
A pile of vegetables needs to be chopped and there is more prep work for lunch.
Running a restaurant on a remote island has its moments, but Mr Yeo said he would not have it any other way.
“You can finish work, walk down on the jetty and wet a line, have a beer and experience island life,” he said.
“Work-life balance is really important to me and I can get the most out of my days by living on a small island.”