In the northern New South Wales town of Pottsville, Pipit Restaurant is making a name for itself. Not only is it an outstanding restaurant in its own right, but it’s also the home of a new and exciting venture. Emerging from the cloud of uncertainty that has plagued the hospitality industry over the past several years, owner and chef Ben Devlin has turned his love of food, Japan and sustainability into an art form. Driven by a waste-reduction philosophy, Ben inspires locals and visitors with his gyotaku art, a traditional Japanese fish painting method.
The foodie scene in northern NSW has come alive over the past several years. The Tweed Valley region is now a delicious enclave of fabulous restaurants, cafes, artisanal producers and fresh produce farmers.
And they aren’t serving up regular fare either. From avocado-brewed beer, sourdough crumpets, whey cheese and the use of indigenous ingredients, this area is fast developing a reputation for its food trail. Ben’s own restaurant Pipit sits comfortably in this mix.
One thing is for sure. A top-notch restaurant that serves beautiful fine-dining food by night and squid ink painting as a side hustle set a high bar. Be sure to add it to your list of things to do in the Tweed Valley.
What is gyotaku art?
Gyotaku art is an ancient method of Japanese ink painting dating back to the 1800s. Its origins came from modest sources; fisherman rubbed their catch with ink and printed it on paper to preserve the size of the catch, and no doubt spread the word when they got back to shore.
This form of squid painting was introduced at Pipit during Covid lockdowns, simultaneously allowing him to explore his passion for the art, extend his restaurant’s offer and positively impact his commercial return.
The walls of the small fine-dining restaurant are now adorned with myriad seafood prints, depicting Ben’s journey and learning in this creative space. While an ink painting of a John Dory catches my eye, the squid images capture my attention.
Ben regularly sells his images, and as an attendee at a cooking demonstration and art class, you can buy one to take home for your own walls.
Pipit’s point of difference
The gyotaku seafood prints are an extension of the restaurant’s aim to source their produce locally and sustainably and reduce the amount of waste that comes from the kitchen daily. While there are other squid ink artists, Ben is the first chef, and Pipit is the first restaurant to bring this process into the public domain. He’s learned more about each animal he paints with, understanding their anatomy and developing a variety of uses for all of their parts. It’s a tangible example of how Ben is putting his philosophy into practice.
Always looking for ways to be more conscious of his footprint, Ben notes that “the grill above the stoves is used to dry out parts of the squid, like wings, to save on electricity.” As he mentions this, I can’t help but think that this is a chef with his heart and mind on every aspect of running his business well.
Food art classes
Classes, combining the squid ink painting and cooking demonstrations, are conducted at the restaurant on Mondays. As attendees sit around the high bench overlooking the open kitchen, Ben shows off his skills in this ancient form of Japanese ink painting, using fresh seafood, including squid, crabs and fish.
My class centres around a large southern calamari sourced from Port Lincoln. While Ben tries to source his produce as locally as possible, sometimes nature has other thoughts. Ben’s other favourite squid, the Arrowhead, is usually sourced from closer waters near Ballina.
The classes are demonstrations, which is great when you consider that you really only get one chance to get it right, lest you have a smudgy mess on the paper. As I watched the squid being delicately covered in black ink, I silently wished that I could have a crack at it myself.
When we opened this restaurant, part of our thought process was to reuse, recycle and close the loop on everything we do,” Ben says while carefully cleaning the squid in preparation for his masterpiece. As the ink sack gets pulled from the depths of the squid’s cavity and the tentacles removed, I can see all of this playing out in real time.
By the time he’s finished, around 50% of the squid will be used and served in the restaurant; the remaining 50% will be used in various ways, like XO sauce from the wings and garam from the waste. The gyotaku squid print will also find its way onto the online shop or, if it’s good enough, on the restaurant’s walls.
The final stage of laying out the animal, covering it with ink and then the paper is a lesson in patience, precision and a gentle touch. “The art is all about recreating what it looks like on paper,” says Ben. As he lifts the paper off the squid, the now inanimate object that has been the model for this final showpiece has done its job. And so has Ben.
Where: Pipit Restaurant 8 Coronation Avenue Pottsville NSW 2489
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or 0490 380 117
Bookings for art classes are essential. Visit their website for the latest event offerings. If you are looking for a unique gift to give to a loved one, gift vouchers are available online.