“Fire is the oldest cooking method in the world,” Ritz-Carlton executive chef Jed Gerrard told Broadsheet in August. He was giving me the lowdown on what we could expect when Hearth, the hotel’s signature modern barbeque restaurant, opened later in the year. “I love how it’s a living, breathing thing that changes every day. You have to keep an eye on it. You have to manage it. It’s also a fun, versatile way to cook.”
Right now, that old-school cooking method is living and breathing something fierce by my left arm. I’m jammed next to the restaurant’s namesake – a custom-built, multi-level South American parilla-style grill – in the open kitchen, watching Gerrard grill abalone (they’re from Burns Beach and held in live seafood tanks in the hotel’s basement) and spears of white asparagus (some of the Perth Hills’ finest) over coals. I’m a little closer to the hearth’s engine room, where logs of wood are slowly burned down into coals, and can feel my right arm getting one mother of a driver’s tan. Elsewhere in the restaurant, staff are going through final service simulations before Hearth, and the hotel, open for real.
But back to the dish at hand. The asparagus gets sliced into coins. The abalone into half-moons. Everything is arranged atop an elegant ceramic bowl of mushroom chawanmushi, Japan’s famous quivering egg custard. To finish, Gerrard adds purple wild garlic flowers and their rangy, green stalks: a neat springtime flourish that speaks to our man’s commitment to seasonality.
“I want all the cuisine in the hotel to be seasonal,” says Gerrard. “Not just at Hearth but also at [rooftop bar and restaurant] Songbird [and for room service]. That’s something very alien to a lot of hotels. It’s way easier on food costs and labour to have the same menu all year, but that’s not what I want to showcase to guests that come here. We try to use Western Australia as much as possible.”
This modus operandi is nothing new for Gerrard. Prior to joining the Ritz-Carlton, he was chef at Wildflower, the State Buildings’ signature restaurant that made its name championing Indigenous ingredients such as wattleseed, marron and saltbush. For his new gig, he’s doubled down on his commitment to unearthing rare Western Australian ingredients. Among the things you’ll find in his shopping basket: boab tubers, crunchy water chestnut-like things, as well as boab leaves, which taste surprisingly similar to tahini. Pearl meal from up in Broome. Strawberry gum, a native eucalypt grown down south near Denmark that’s used to flavour a very Australian crème caramel. Rainbow trout from the Southern Forests, smoked and served with a classic French cream sauce that’s brightened up with lemony grilled sorrel.
The detective work isn’t limited to the ingredients. Gerrard has teamed up with his firewood supplier to develop different pucks of fruitwood sawdust (apricot and plum, for instance) for the kitchen’s digital smoker, while ancient stone from the Kimberley makes fitting centrepieces for tables in the dining room. Gerrard, in short, wants Hearth to encapsulate everything that’s great about Western Australia.
“While we want to showcase the state to international visitors, Hearth is also about appealing to people that live here too,” he says. “How many people have eaten boab tuber or youlk [a native radish-like vegetable]?”
The airy, high-ceilinged space designed by Lombard & Jack is a fitting stage for Gerrard’s work and plays off blue-grey accents and stone against a neutral palette. The WA-inspired colour scheme carries over to the handmade ceramic tableware and staff uniforms, a relaxed ensemble – white wide-collar shirts, tan pants, braces for the gents – designed by Australian fashion designers, Jonté Designs. White, red and pink are the primary hues of the all-WA wine list.
While the 180-seat ground-floor restaurant will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner all week, visitors can also dine at Hearth Lounge (try the Japanese-inspired wagyu beef sando on the bar menu) and Songbird.
1 Barrack Street Perth