Jo Youl has had a very busy year so far. She had her third baby, Georgina in February then opened a new business to accompany the cattle farm that’s been in her family since the 1930s. She’s in the midst of teeing up stock, staff and schedules for summer and is racing to pack for a weekend away with Georgina on her hip when we chat.
Jo laughs at my awe of her accomplishments, but assures me it’s been an enjoyable ride. She’s speaking from Flinders Island, the place that’s receiving all her energy and savvy because Jo is on a mission to create something special on this alluring patch of land in the middle of Bass Strait.
“I want to bring like-minded people together to offer the best of Flinders to visitors. I want to shine a spotlight on the makers, the growers and also want to help build a community in which our young people want to stay and work.”
Jo started A Taste of Flinders a few years ago, an initiative raising the profile of local produce and those who make it. The centerpiece of Jo’s latest project is The Flinders Wharf, an eatery on the edge of the water at Whitemark on the island’s mid-west coast.
With creative input from Hobart’s Chloe Proud, the place opened in time for the much-celebrated Food and Crayfish Festival in April. For the lucky pack that boarded tiny planes to attend the affair - many of which move and shake Australia’s food and tourism scenes - the wine flowed and crustaceans sizzled en masse.
That gourmand retreat got the ball rolling on the Wharf that has become a popular local haunt, particularly at Happy Hour, and first stop for visitors before they head to various attractions and lodgings around Flinders, some of which fall under the Wharf banner.
Local bits like rhubarb, mutton bird, honey, pumpkin, garlic, wallaby and the inevitable cray are dotted across the Wharf’s menu when in season alongside Furneaux Distillery spirits. Long lunches are encouraged (or a must-do, judging by the spread I’ve seen) and are being taken up by hungry groups flying in briefly from Melbourne or Tassie.
There’s been a series of guest chefs – see Ali Currey-Voumard and Flinders ambassador, David Moyle – who’ve commandeered the Wharf’s kitchen and a new wave of culinary genius has just been announced for this summer. James Viles and Ryan Kovac of Bertha’s Meats kick things off in September before Templo/Sonny owner Matt Breen and Max Sharrad of Adelaide’s Nido Pasta Bar keep the party going in October. Polishing off the program is Adam James of Rough Rice and general food guru Luke Burgess, who Jo tells me has been a mentor throughout the Wharf project. Each team will deliver a weekend’s worth of carefully thought-out fare after spending time foraging for it and learning about it from locals.
Jo, who grew up on a Victorian cropping farm, graduated uni with a degree in Farm Business Management and now specialises in Agribusiness Marketing, is surrounding herself with compatible experts like Burgess to grow the Wharf. She regularly chats with Pump House Point creator and tourism industry legend, Simon Currant, is investigating worm composting and learning ways to reduce waste from champion Joost Bakker and wants to work with local industry to build on-island meat processing and deer farming.
Sustainable fare is front and centre in Jo’s quest to further invigorate a destination that’s seemingly pinched the spotlight from its island cousin, King. Flinders’ smorgasbord of indulgence - I haven’t even mentioned the gin, saltgrass lamb and Angus beef - is a spread fit for a Queen, and Jo is rallying the troops to bring it all to the table. This go-getter (who I must add is in on this with husband Tom, a builder from Tassie’s Midlands who asked Jo to come for a six-month stay on Flinders eight years ago) is encouraging makers, doers and growers across the island to be part of the project.
Jo admits there’s plenty of work to do – she wants the Wharf’s menu to be almost entirely sourced locally, for example – but is chuffed with the response to this project of many layers. Jo says the community has got around the idea and is excited for where else it could go and with job creation in mind, it’s headed in the right direction.
I haven’t yet had the pleasure of Flinders, this foodie playground with beaches for days, but need to get my act together. Because I’d love to hang out by the ocean, rip the legs off a fresh-cooked cray and hear more of Jo’s big ideas for this little island. Now, to just work on my fear of small planes…
All these lovely images are by Natasha Mulhall and kindly provided by Jo. Visit The Flinders Wharf or follow the fun on Instagram.