The Orana Foundation recognises the unique relationship that Indigenous people have with the land and their rich heritage of traditional food culture.

It was borne out of a conversation chef Jock Zonfrillo had 15 years ago with an Aboriginal busker he met at Circular Quay. What led him to seek out someone to have this conversation with was years in the making.

Having first arrived in Australia two years earlier, Jock was drawn to learning about the ingredients, cuisine and traditions of Aboriginal culture. He was surprised to find very little information available and was told that there was little to investigate in terms of an Aboriginal cuisine or gastronomic identity. His frustration grew as he repeatedly came up against offensive stereotypes of Aboriginals, jokes about inedible Bush Tucker, and no recognition of any complexity in their culture or knowledge of the land. Believing that this couldn’t be the reality of the oldest living culture on earth, Jock set about educating himself by going directly to the source. This very particular combination of frustration, curiosity and tenacity led Jock to approach a stranger and ask him countless questions about his life, culture and connection to the land.

The stranger, Jimmy, began telling stories of stuffing freshly caught Barramundi with native lime leaves in the shape of pine needles. To use all parts of the fish, leave as little impact on the land as possible and protect the meat from the heat of the fire, the fish skin and scales were used as packaging, thrown onto the fire when the coals were at their hottest, the wetness of the fish dampening the heat.

Jimmy’s family in the Northern Territory would spear stingrays, using the land and surroundings to know when was the best time to hunt and harvest the ray.

“When the tide goes down to half way down your shins, that’s when the water is filled with stingray to spear. When the white lily flowers bloom, it’s time to hunt the stingray. This is when the belly’s full of fat. We throw the belly on hot coals, the fat bursts. Then we pull the fish apart and mash the fat through the cooked flesh and make into balls.”

Jock realised the fat Jimmy was referring to, was the liver, an organ highly prised in any cuisine, most notably used for foie gras. The level of sophistication, preparation and knowledge of the land and nature to prepare this dish, was a startling awakening for Jock that this was indeed a culture with an affinity to the land, and a respect for nature that housed complex knowledge of how to not only live well, but to thrive in a notoriously harsh environment.

Over the course of their conversation, Jock confirmed what he always thought to be true: that the First Australians’ relationship to food and the land is deeply complex, sophisticated and well-thought out and deserves recognition and respect.

Knowing he’d need to visit communities himself to gain any more knowledge, Jock visited his first community six times, each time being interrogated by Elders and sent on his way. The seventh time they finally trusted this outsider enough to begin sharing their stories, knowledge, memories and culture.

Over the next few years Jock visited hundreds of communities and slowly started forming the beginnings of The Foundation. He could see that Australia was a land rich in native wild foods that Indigenous people held the knowledge for regarding cultivation, harvesting and preparation but that this information was practically unknown outside of these communities.

A picture began to emerge of a huge opportunity and a need to revolutionise Australian food culture through combining the preservation of Indigenous knowledge and practice with contemporary methods and innovation.

The Foundation’s strategy for doing so has developed into a three part framework:

icon1 The formation of a native wild foods Database combining accumulated and new knowledge of Australian ingredients, their source, properties, cultural relevance and uses.
icon2 The establishment of the Australian Food Culture Enterprise, a research and development facility that combines scientific analysis of Australian ingredients with knowledge from Indigenous communities to explore new horizons in contemporary gastronomy, as well as develop wider applications.
icon3 The creation of an innovation and enterprise hub for promoting and linking research and development of Australian ingredients to a range of commercial opportunities which benefit Indigenous enterprises.

The aims and the outcomes for The Foundation are:

  • To assist remote Indigenous communities by stimulating Indigenous enterprise through supporting communities to research, document, commercialise and promote native wild foods.
  • To support the development and expansion of native wild food supply and demand for the benefit and welfare of remote Indigenous communities.
  • To alleviate Indigenous social and economic disadvantage, particularly in remote communities, through professional skills training and employment opportunities in growing, cultivating and harvesting native wild foods.
  • To preserve and promote the unique cultural heritage of traditional Indigenous food culture as a bridge to greater cultural recognition and understanding among all Australians.

Aware that the only way to publicise the mission of The Foundation and get anyone to take native, wild ingredients seriously, Jock knew he had to lead by example and create a globally-recognised restaurant where people could experience this cuisine first-hand. In 2013, he opened Restaurant Orana.

Here was a place where people could experience and taste Australian wild ingredients, reconnect with a reimagined idea of the food culture of the first Australians, and hopefully become engaged in the ideas of The Foundation.