Jock Zonfrillo’s food journey has taken him from foraging and fishing with his Scottish and Italian grandfathers and cooking for one of the world’s best chefs, Marco Pierre White, in England, to his own award-winning restaurants in Adelaide.
SA’s abundant food bowl reared its virtues to colourful chef Jock Zonfrillo long before he contemplated life in Adelaide. Ahead of his rise to celebrated restaurateur and TV chef, while working in Sydney, he remembers ranking SA’s San Jose Smallgoods and Woodside cheeses as “the best in the country”.
“We (chefs) look at SA as having some of the best ingredients in the world. They’re undoubtedly some of the best I’ve worked with,” he says, also counting the blessing of proximity to that produce, which is for him a key drawcard to this state. The high-profile champion of indigenous food, raised in an Italian and Scottish family, grew up foraging and fishing with his dad and grandfather.
In the mid 1990s, working for famously pedantic chef Marco Pierre White, Zonfrillo drove his boss to Hampshire river areas in the UK, “knackered after 18-hour shifts, to fish for pike in the middle of the night, then get up early to pick oxalis (wood sorrel)” for plating the catch.
A respect for food provenance was forever instilled. Since moving to Adelaide about seven years ago, he has led Penfolds Magill Estate kitchen, and now is the chef/owner of fine-dining native-food specialist Orana, its step-downstairs sister, Blackwood, as well as the Nonna Mallozzi food truck. Magill and Orana both have Four-fork status in The Advertiser Food Awards, along with only one other, Hentley Farm.
Feeding his restaurant’s varied food needs absorbs Zonfrillo.
Another consuming passion is the Orana Foundation, a non-profit body he funded alone until a recent injection of $1.25m from the State Government, supporting its aim to “preserve and evolve Australian food culture”.
It’s the ultimate extension to those early Sydney days, when the SA-factor dawned. “Unbeknown to us, we were buying SA ingredients at the markets. Lettuces, beans … most came from Virginia,” he says. “In a typical Sydney restaurant, you don’t know where your ingredients are from. It’s doesn’t say Virginia Plains lettuce on your menu. People don’t care.”
He insists that in Adelaide, 99 per cent of restaurants don’t know either. “Provenance is important to a lot of chefs, but to a lot of businesses it’s about food quality and price. There’s nothing wrong with that. You have to make profit, or you close.”
Zonfrillo, says he’s “not making bags of money or driving a Ferrari”, and he doesn’t compromise. His signature is exquisite, foraged, native food, and it’s hip. “Foraging would be very hard in Sydney. It’s eight hours to the Blue Mountains and back. Here, in 15 minutes we ‘shop’ in the hills or at the coastline. Commercially, potatoes and greens are top quality and they’ve been pulled out of the ground yesterday. You’d be hard pushed to get that in Sydney, or Melbourne.” In the proteins, “SA marron are stunning, so clean”. He believes the Kangarilla marron farmer he favours is a product of the SA environment, because “passion comes when you’re relaxed, and in a good place in your life”. “In Sydney, I spent so much of my life in a car. It was insane. Now, I have more time to spend in the kitchen, to have fun with my kids. Producers’ lives are good too, and it makes them more passionate about what they do.”
It also enables professional relationships, such as his connection to Richard Gunner, the grazier/butcher/owner of Feast! Fine Foods. “SA meat is unbelievable. To have that amount of traditionally bred, grass-fed animals to serve in a restaurant is phenomenal,” Zonfrillo says.
“You know the provenance of the (beef). The animal was over two and a half years old when it was killed so you know that it has had a great life, and it was at its optimum. That kind of detail, a lot of customers don’t want to know, but for me that’s important. I wouldn’t have that information, or that relationship, in other states. ”
More food faves are “incredible” Spencer Gulf prawns, and mulloway. ”The bigger mulloway are like wagyu, riddled with beautiful fat,” he says.
Kris Lloyd’s Woodside cheese screams SA, and, Zonfrillo ranks some locally produced lamb as No 1 in the world. “I think SA has some of the biggest herds of Black-Faced Suffolk lamb, which is by far the best eating lamb in the country,” he says, crediting richer greener pastures. “When Heston Blumenthal said he wanted the best lamb, that’s what I gave him. He used it the entire time the Fat Duck was open (in Melbourne).”
“As a chef, I have a duty of care to where I am, and where I am is South Australia. I want to show it off as best I can. What it costs is what it costs.”
Zonfrillo believes SA doesn’t yet have a truly local hero food, and hopes the Orana Foundation will find it. “It’s an SA-led project and we know we will inevitably uncover a wild food unique to SA. The Foundation will expand, analyse ingredients and then work out the harvesting and conservation possibilities. From there, will come amazing things, for sure.”
The Orana Foundation has received a massive funding boost, which will expand the organisation’s work in the research, cultivation and production of indigenous Australian foods. Launched by Jock Zonfrillo to support indigenous food businesses, the foundation is $1.25 million richer, following an injection by the SA Government.
SA Premier Jay Weatherill says: “By supporting the Orana Foundation we can help commercialise native foods by developing product lines and markets both in Australia and overseas.”
Original Article: New Adelaide