The words “local” and “sustainable” are buzzwords thrown around by a lot of today’s restaurants, but Hartwood restaurant in Tulum is, as owners Eric Werner and Mya Henry say, “as close to 100 percent sustainable as we can get.” The husband-and-wife team are going the extra mile to directly practice responsible fishing methods, buy produce and meat directly from farmers and producers, conserve energy production and build lasting relationships with workers in the community. But whether it’s spear-catching fish for dinner or stocking coolers (there’s virtually no electricity!) with freshly-transported ice, nothing at Hartwood comes easy.
There are no wholesale suppliers for the restaurant. Instead, to keep up with the daily demands of the kitchen, Hartwood owns three boats and employs eight fishermen full-time who fish from the sea directly in front of the restaurant property. Eric often goes out on the boat with them, or spends the early mornings breaking down a catch of whole fish (think wahoo, coronado and mahimahi, all caught by speargun). “The relationship with have with them is something like you would have with your family,” Eric says. “These guys love bringing new things that they spear-caught or line-caught or that they’re interested in. It’s a relationship that works on both sides.”
Hartwood gets most of the ingredients it uses, from fresh sugarcane and cactus paddles to habanero and pasilla chiles, directly through inland farms and markets on the Yucatán Peninsula. “We make sure that everything that we buy for the restaurant has a direct effect for the people that live around us,” Eric tells us. “Not only is it amazing stuff to work with, and new and fresh ingredients—different types of chiles, and things that are specific to the Yucatán—but it allows for smaller farms to have more business, which brings more to the area.” To get those supplies, they rely on taxis to deliver food from stands, or sometimes Eric makes the drive himself to the region’s largest marketplace three and a half hours away in the nearby town of Okkutzcab.
In addition to all of their careful sourcing for the restaurant, Eric and Mya ensure the same type of attention is paid to the drinks served at the bar. “Nothing is ever poured out of a box, or bought from one of the juice stands in town, or saved from the night before. No way,” Eric and Mya write in their book, Hartwood. Rather, every single afternoon, staffers sort through the fruit to pick out what is at peak ripeness, and 12 different juices, ranging from watermelon to passion fruit to guanabana, are squeezed fresh using hand-cranked juicers (or puréed using the restaurant’s single electric appliance, a blender) to service that evening’s guests at the bar.
Eric and Mya have gone to great lengths to make sure that everything the restaurant does pays deep respect to the natural world, and this includes electricity and water. In addition to the several ice deliveries that come in daily, clean water is also trucked in to use at the restaurant. “All of our water comes in via truck. Then we break down everything within the restaurant that gets produced, and it becomes 90 percent clean fertilized water that regenerates all the main groves around us,” Eric explains.
Other than that single blender, the cooks at Hartwood do everything by hand. The restaurant runs on bare-bones electricity, and they’ve made it a policy that any electricity they need to use, they have to generate themselves. A few solar panels run a few lights and play music in the evening, to supplement the fact that everything else is done by candlelight. There is, amazingly, no refrigerator and no freezer—instead, eight coolers and blocks of ice from several daily deliveries are all that’s used to keep ingredients fresh. Stoves, sous vide machines and salamanders have no place here; any cooking is done on an open flame, either in the kitchen’s wood-fired oven or grill.
Despite the restaurant’s never-ending upkeep, Mya and Eric wouldn’t do it any other way. “It’s amazing to see this civilization still doing everything by hand. Literally, everything [here] was done by hand: All the local craftsmen came and built the restaurant. We got to see all of that from the woodwork, the ironwork, the masonry, everything,” Mya says. “There is no machinery here. That’s a dying art. We’re very appreciative to be able to witness it.”
See more about Hartwood in our video below.