An edible eco-friendly ethos

ethos is a hidden gem in the heart of Hobart making a name for itself in the culinary market. The wonderful mix of heritage architecture, sourcing special and seasonal produce and a meticulous attention to detail, is the secret behind their success.

Iced Vovo spoke to Restaurant Manager Chloe Proud and Owner/Chef Iain Todd about the uncovering of the site, ethos’ ethos and what makes this place such a memorable experience for guests:

Q: Can we start with your magnificent location first – the building that ethos is home to has such a rich history that, thankfully, you have uncovered, can you tell us how you came about finding it and the process of transformation.

A: The owner of the entire building, which constitutes 100 Elizabeth Street at the façade, was unaware that the site extended back as far as it did until surveying discovered the space which ethos now resides in. The building you see today dates back to 1850 and was built to replace the old Hobart Hotel built in the 1820’s but unfortunately it was made from wood and burnt down around 1840.

The area at the back had been bricked off and essentially used as a private junkyard for such a long time, I don’t think anyone was expecting the original foundations of the site to be as in tact as they are (a testament to the workmanship perhaps). Iain (owner and chef of ethos) had a previous professional relationship with the owner of the building, who initially asked Iain to consult with him in the development of the site into a cafe-type space. As you can imagine, one look at the site and he wanted to operate in it himself, so his consultancy became working on the development of his own restaurant.

When I came on board with the project, we were in the midst of collaborations between archaeologists/Heritage Tasmania/the owner Rod West/his construction team (who specialise in Heritage restorations) and Iain. The beauty of the site still being as rudimentary as it was meant that we could maintain the original integrity of the site in conjunction with Heritage regulations while putting in place the infrastructure we needed to operate. As the site is Heritage listed and quite significant, a lot of the features that we now showcase were a requirement- however I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to showcase them as they are so unique, interesting and beautiful.

Iain and I are both big advocates of maintaining and respecting Hobart history – we both have family in the UK so I think we have a little sentiment for colonial architecture – so it was a no brainer to us to ensure that the original features of the site remained untainted and I think that the abundance of raw material adds to and enhances our general business ethos with regard to organics and rudimentary produce.

Q: In your ‘ethos’ on ethos you put the focus very much on being mindful about where everything comes from – from the materials used in the renovations to the ingredients you use in the food – can you tell us a little more about the reasoning or benefits you have noticed you get from this?

While in the first instance, we embarked upon developing a business that had a minimal environmental impact (when you work in an industry that is so wasteful it becomes difficult not to become jaded and desire change), as we progressed we realised that it was not only something quite accessible, but that we lived in a State and a community that were happy to and excited about supporting that. The fact that Tasmania is relatively small means that we have everything close-at-hand meaning that things don’t travel as far to get to us which means less fuel in the trucks and less spoilage to the product. We are very lucky to be able to deal with a lot of growers and producers directly which means that we can assure quality from seed right through to plate.

For us, it is understanding that something truly sustainable extends further than the equipment we use and the produce we source, but it is also the contribution to and the support of the local economy and its constituents.

Q: You tend to give equal importance to both the food and drink side of the restaurant – can I start with the drink component first – do you think this has been something that a lot of restaurants have done as a kind of secondary thing rather than really thinking about the beverages as being something that customers are equally interested in?

A: Drinks are a vital part of any hospitality operation and should go hand-in-hand with the food. At ethos we follow the same path in sourcing the drinks as we do with the food. Where possible it’s ethical, seasonal and local. We produce a lot of our own cordials and mixers in-house, brew our own ginger beer, use milk from a very small dairy in the Huon Valley and a myriad of Tasmanian wines and spirits.

As far as wines and beers are concerned- our premise is simple- that food and drink that come from the same terroir will match in balance and characteristic. So we have a primarily Tasmanian list- and where possible, keep wines to small yield/production, family owned and minimal intervention wines. An attempt to showcase what is an increasingly renowned cool climate wine area. That said, we understand that there is a demographic of diners that don’t necessarily want to stick local or want to experiment with varietals not produced in the State- so we always integrate interesting interstate or international varietals- all hand picked as we feel they are great food matches for our style of fare.

As we have evolved and managed to garner some support from the local industry- we have lots of products which are custom made or allocated to us exclusively- something that gives us a great point of difference. Through summer we will be showcasing several craft beers unavailable elsewhere in the State, limited and backdated vintages of wine allocated to ethos only among other exciting tid bits!

Q: Congratulations on winning Gourmet Traveller’s Wine List of the Year Awards 2011 – that must be a boost to your confidence in knowing that you have come up with a ‘product’ that people enjoy. Was the win a surprise, does it validate what you are doing in a way?

A: Awards are always a funny thing- one the one hand it is fantastic to gain industry recognition- people who are well educated on a professional level affirming you are on the right track or that you have created a well balanced and throughout product (which take a lot of work and in a small state with limited resources it can be quite difficult to set yourself apart and not appear repetitive) on the other hand they are no way near as encouraging as customer feedback. To have someone come into your environment and trust you as a professional to suggest and tailor their experience, even if it means trying something they would never order because they don’t recognise it, and then enjoying it and enhancing their education is incredibly fulfilling from a professional perspective.

Q: With regard to the food – the focus is not necessarily on everyone just ordering their own dish but more about communal sharing – can you explain a little more about the design of your menu?

A: We have a small a la carte menu which is comprised of ingredients we can guarantee supply of through the duration of that particular menu. Our focus is on the blackboards which are re-written before each service with a list of the wonderful things that have come in to the kitchen on the day in question. It might be a single bunch or box of something from one of our many growers, and once it’s used it’s gone. We only offer these things to people who agree to let us chose what comes out to their table. So you never know what’s coming!

Q: The idea of leaving the dishes up to the chef reminds me very much of what you find in Japan – where the chef prepares a range of dishes using fresh, seasonal ingredients of the moment – where did you get your restaurant influences from?

A: Letting the kitchen decide what is served is how we like to eat, of course the chefs know what is the best on the day, they’ve spent all day sourcing it preparing it, and cooking it. You are often surprised by what is put in front of you and it adds a great deal of excitement to the meal. I’d never order off a menu again if I didn’t have to. The inspiration comes from the ingredients. The best thing about only using local and seasonal products is that a vast majority of the time the things that are around work well together because they grow together in the same conditions. For instance at the moment we have spring lamb available, so what better to put with it than young spring vegetables.

Q: Your site says you use ‘exceptional Tasmanian produce’ but does it all come from Tasmania or where else do you source your ingredients?

A: A vast majority of our ingredients are Tasmanian, however some concessions need to be made on occasion. Sugar is one such thing because it simply doesn’t grow in Tasmania. Where we can we use Tasmanian Honey to sweeten but for some things only sugar will do. I’d say we are 95% Tasmanian on the plate. Only if there we cannot find a Tasmanian ingredient of comparable quality we will look elsewhere, the trick is to still find sustainable and ethical products. Any meat or vegetables on the plates at Ethos will be of Tasmanian origin.

Q: ethos has function facilities – can you tell us how many numbers you can cater for?

A: We can seat up to about 30 people in our private room or 60 if the entire venue is booked out for sit-down events or 100 for canapés.

Q: What next for ethos – what other plans do you have for the business?

The ever-changing menu keeps us on our toes and as seasons change so does our long list of suppliers, so we will continue to evolve and scour the countryside for growers, graziers, orchardists, vineyards and anyone else who has something delicious to offer!

One of next big focuses through summer is to start doing matched wines for meals- opening up aforementioned interesting varietals (and not necessarily wines but juices/whiskeys/beers etc) and enriching staff and diners with a bit more or a flavour match focus.

Sounds like a lot of wonderful gourmet delicacies are going to be on offer over summer for patrons to try at ethos. Be sure to check out ethos’ website for opening times and contact details and book to avoid disappointment! You can also find ethos on Iced Vovo’s Fab Finds page.

(Thanks to ethos for the food pics – others taken by Iced Vovo)

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