Ok, cards on the table, hand on heart. When Christian Puglisi of Relae collected the Sustainable Restaurant Award at The World’s 50 Best Restaurants in New York last year, for the second time, the overwhelming sense at SRA HQ was that it would take a restaurant of extraordinary passion, commitment and credentials to crash the Relae party in Melbourne this year.
Well, take a bow and ready yourselves for a rousing rendition of the Marseillaise – Septime – you have proved us wrong. And sometimes it tastes surprisingly good to be proved wrong. In this case, it really does taste delicious. Because, old school friends Bertrand Grébaut and Théo Pourriat have combined a heady mix of thoughtful, thought-provoking and affordable food at their Paris restaurant – helping them to scoop this year’s award.
Tonight in Melbourne they are being honoured for demonstrating an absolutely exceptional level of sustainability. The restaurant’s mission is for their customers to leave having eaten,with a “greater understanding or curiosity of origins, terroir and responsibility.”
In addition to the larderful of amazing practices, Septime, named No 35 on the list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, prides itself on being available to all. As they say on their own quite beautiful and inspiring sustainability report: “As for accountability, Septime has also maintained the status of the least expensive for a dining experience on the 50 Best, and the cheapest One Michelin-Star in Paris even after notable acclaim and distinctions, we keep our four course menu at 42 euros. That is to say, the message we convey is the objective, not the investment.” It continues: “the way we’re working, hand in hand with all our suppliers, the way we treat our staff, and the taste and emotion that we transmit to our customer, are for us the REAL luxury.”
In truth it’s a gorgeous melange of ingredients that combine to make Septime this year’s worthy winner. Bertrand and Theo are fanatical about their search for the best produce – in every way.
It takes a lot for produce to find its way onto the Septime menu. There is a lot that doesn’t – including beef. In fact the menu is
comprised 80% of vegetables and beef is positively excluded – for environmental reasons. Breton oysters and honey cultivated on the roof of the city’s stock exchange sit alongside rare breed pigs and chickens that live for at least six months – three times the average life of a UK free-range bird. And every scrap is used.
Septime’s seafood offering is no less thoughtfully sourced. Sardines, hake, horse mackerel and pouting are regulars on the menu and dealing directly with small scale fishermen they pay 20% over market price.
They’ve recently invested in a farm just outside Paris and source from a number of urban farms within the city.
The Septime team is also fanatical about avoiding waste. Bertrand says: “The fight against food waste is daily work. We strive to convey to our staff that managing food waste is not a chore, but instead a creative opportunity. Why throw away turnip stems when they can be blended into a puree to season an oyster dish with fresh pepperiness.”
The eye for detail is obvious when it comes to the drinks too. All of the wine is natural, a no pesticide policy sees to that, and Bertrand and Théo now have their own vineyard in Saint Emilion which is in the process of conversion to biodynamic production. Their chosen bottles from the Rhone are delivered to Paris by barge.
Bertrand and Théo are so respectful of their select band of artisanal fruit, vegetable and wine producers that they pay them even when their crop fails. “Their frustrations are our frustrations – we are not independent, but co-dependent in our successes and challenges. And while currently there it is little help from the state, we see an opportunity in our role and position as restaurateurs to step up and present an irreproachable ethic.”
Bertrand and Theo’s respect for people starts at home as it were – looking after their own team by paying 30% over the minimum wage and unusually employing more women than men.
While the Septime team doesn’t want its customers to be chewing on righteousness it does grasp its responsibility with both hands and would like to see others follow suit. Bertrand is adamant that chefs can be a force for positive change. “We see an opportunity in our role and position as restaurateurs to step up and present an irreproachable ethic,” he adds.