Jock Zonfrillo – Defining Australian Cuisine

A chat with Scotland-born, Australia-based chef Jock Zonfrillo: he’s working with the Orana Foundation to rediscover some of Australia’s native ingredients.

“It’s that golden question everyone asks me, what is Australian food, Jock?”. It’s midnight in Adelaide, and chef Jock Zonfrillo is speaking over a crackly line from his car outside his restaurant, Orana. “That’s like pointing at a baby and saying it’s a mechanic. We don’t know what it’s going to be yet.”

But the maverick Scotsman might be moving a step closer to defining Australian cuisine once and for all. He’s celebrating a $1.25million State Government grant awarded to his Orana Foundation. And now the not-for-profit organisation can continue its work with indigenous communities to rediscover some of Australia’s native ingredients.

“It’s an early Christmas present. Having this money means we can set up a food lab in its own right, and start creating a database that’s open sourced, internationally accredited and an innovation hub,” says Zonfrillo. “There will be people there working on it full time. Everything will be on a slightly bigger scale, we’ll be able to help more communities and have more ingredients.”

Zonfrillo set up the Orana Foundation after a chance meeting with an Aboriginal busker near Sydney Harbour some 15 years ago. It inspired him to go in search of the lost food culture of his adopted homeland. He visited hundreds of communities and saw that the land was rich with native foods known only to the local people.

Three years ago, he opened Orana (which means ‘welcome’ in several Aboriginal languages) as a showcase for native ingredients, and as a way of exploring and defining a food culture that’s far older and more diverse than most Australians realise.

At its heart, the Orana Foundation’s philosophy recognises the connection indigenous Australian people have with the land, and the subsequent richness of their food culture. “The relationship with the land is super-sophisticated and it’s something that was misunderstood and overlooked,” says Zonfrillo. “When you scratch the surface of that it’s really fascinating. A lot more chefs are using native ingredients now than when I first started this, and that’s fantastic.”

Of the many native foodstuffs on Orana’s menu, Zonfrillo waxes lyrical about Moreton Bay fig shoots. He tried one once and was unimpressed. “It was vile. It was astringent, bitter and f****** horrible.” But after some “blood-hounded” research, he discovered an Aboriginal community in Queensland that placed their Moreton Bay fig shoots at the edge of the fire, and cooked them with seawater and ash. “It had this coconutty aftertaste,” says Zonfrillo. “It was delicious.”

He took the fig shoots back to Orana and decided to cook them in the same way, but with a twist. “We dip it in a pandanus puree – pandanus is a fruit only indigenous people use. We ferment it and make a puree out of it. What comes out is so strong it’s unbelievable – it has all the acidity and punch of a passion fruit. Then we dip it in a crumb of the outside of the fig shoot. People eat it and they’re just blown away.”

It’s just one of many success stories of the Orana Foundation’s work with indigenous communities. But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. “I was out there in Palm Island, and I was talking to an elder who was the second oldest guy on the island. He said: ‘Oh, my father was a great cook, an amazing hunter-gatherer, he cooked the old way – when he did fish he wrapped in it tin foil and put it on the fire.’ And my heart sank. This guy was 60-something and that’s what he remembers. We’ve lost so much already that will never be recovered. It’s just gone.”

Zonfrillo knows it’s a race against time to preserve as much of an ancient and disappearing food culture as possible. But at the core of the Orana Foundation is a dedication to help Aboriginal communities gain from their unique cultures.

“The whole purpose of it was to give back more than we take,” Zonfrillo says. “Long term there are social business enterprises to be had in all communities across the country. There is a sense of pride that can be brought back for the younger generations. A togetherness and a sense of morale. Young Aboriginal men and women would love to come back to their own land and reconnect with it.”

“We are not dictating to them what they should be doing. We’re reconnecting them with what was there originally and what their forefathers did, and offering them some ideas around what they could possibly do to reconnect them with that land.”

Zonfrillo is mindful of the challenges ahead, but he knows the extra funding could be a game changer: “On the Foundation level it’s going to be much bigger, deeper and with a lot more gusto now we have more finance behind us. It’s going to multiply out at such a rate, and I think it’s super exciting.”

Original Article: Fine Dining Lovers

The 10 best things to happen in food this year: 5–1

Here it is: the top five best things to happen in the Australian food scene this year, from the world’s best croissants to the renaissance of our native foods.

RELATED: Find the list of 10-6 here

5 – A dining paradise in Sydney

Hubert was not just a restaurant opening in Sydney. It was the restaurant opening in Sydney. The folks behind the city’s most trailblazing bars–the Baxter Inn, Shady Pines Saloon and Frankie’s Pizza by the Slice–joined forces with arguably Sydney’s hottest chef, Daniel Pepperell, to refashion a CBD basement space into an adult’s nostalgic Disneyland. With its dark panelled walls, jazzy tunes, candlelit tables, grand piano, French but daringly refashioned food–not to mention the stellar cocktail list (try the Pastis Pizz or be damned)–it’s one of our favourite places not just to eat, but to be, in Sydney, and it’s picking up accolades everywhere. It feels like it has been here a hundred years, but it only opened in April.

4 – Melbourne patisserie gets the nod

The French must be furious. In April this year, a New York Times food writer claimed that Melbourne’s Lune Croissanterie were selling croissants that “may be the finest you will find anywhere in the world.”
So basically the world’s best croissants then? That’s a big call–but one we’ll take, thank you very much. They also picked up gongs for cutting edge design in their retails space.

3 – David Thompson’s return

David Thompson is widely recognised as the first chef to get Thai food a Michelin star. Oh, and did we mention he’s an Aussie? He hadn’t had a restaurant in this country for 14 years but now the prodigal son has returned, launching Long Chim in Perth in the final weeks of 2015, followed by Long Chim Sydney in August 2016. Long Chim Melbourne is set to open on 16 January 2017. And the food is every bit as good as you’d imagine–if you can handle the heat, get ready to taste the subtle nuances of the hottest chillies.

RELATED: David Thompson’s Pat Thai recipe

2 – The Orana Foundation got the coin

Australia’s native foods have been the talk of the town this year, and so it feels appropriate that as this year comes to a close, one of the country’s leading charities in the area has been awarded $1.25 million to further develop its projects. The Orana Foundation is the brainchild of Scottish-born chef Jock Zonfrillo of Adelaide’s Orana and Blackwood restaurants, and Nonna Mallozzi food truck. The new grant will fund a research facility and database on native foods, their traditional uses and nutritional values, as well as information on how we can use them today. Crucially, the grant will help the foundation explore how we can use native produce ethically, honouring the vast knowledge passed on from our First Nations peoples. In the long-term, this grant could change the way Australian native produce is seen internationally.

RELATED: What to do with lemon myrtle

1 – Noma Australia

The Noma Australia pop-up placed Australia firmly on the world food map (not only was there a special MAD SYD symposium held here in April, but the World’s 50 Best Restaurants ceremony is coming here for the first time in 2017). Patron-chef René Redzepi spent many months working with our First Nations people, researching and then realising an all-native ingredient menu that took us from New South Wales lantana flower and dried scallop pie, to Northern Territory green tree ant-dressed mango ice cream, and the most spectacular range of bush condiments aside Western Australian abalone schnitty. Noma Australia showed this country–and the world–what Australian food could be, on an unprecedented scale. And it turns out it’s downright delicious.

We can’t wait to see what unrolls for 2017. If the past 12 months is any indication, it’ll be better–and tastier–than ever.

Original Article:

A Guide to Native Food: White Aspen

Photography: Josie Withers

Australian native food is growing in popularity, but to many Australians it’s still a mystery. Accepted local fare such as kangaroo, saltbush and pippies are just a small fraction of thousands of potential ingredients in our own backyard. Some of these foods have flavours we’re not used to – at times bitter, astringent and powerful – so with this series we’re here to demystify them, one ingredient at a time.

White Aspen, Acronychia oblongifolia (family Rutaceae)

Chef Jock Zonfrillo is a key player in Australia’s native food revolution. Wild ingredients are the heroes of his menus at Orana and Blackwood. He champions the land we live on and the food that has grown here for tens of thousands of years. Beyond his restaurants, Zonfrillo has set up the Orana Foundation; a public, native-food database and research hub.

Zonfrillo also works with producers, farmers, harvesters and suppliers, including Warren and Ewa Jones of Tumbeela Native Bush Foods in the Adelaide Hills. “I choose to work with people who not only understand what we do but also share the same values,” Zonfrillo says.

One of the many ingredients he uses is white aspen, Acronychia oblongifolia (family Rutaceae). It’s a small-to-medium rainforest tree with striking, bright-white fruit, produced during winter. The fruits have a pleasant, aromatic, peppery smell and a lemony, pine/mango flavour.

The white aspen Tumbeela Farm produces is a different variety than the one you’ll find in many suppliers’ deep freeze; it has a slightly higher acidity. Tumbeela is 20 minutes from Orana in Adelaide’s CBD. This means Zonfrillo can use it fresh rather than frozen, which for any chef is a massive win.

“We use aspen in many ways,” he says. “Juices for food pairings; in a variety of ferments, because it contains acids, which break down proteins; fresh in desserts; in salads and sauces; and dehydrated in teas. The list is endless, really. Essentially it can be used like a fresh berry, but can sit among savoury ingredients comfortably.”

For the general public, most of whom are Australian-native novices, the flavours of some of the most commonly available ingredients can be challenging. So how do we overcome our fear of these ingredients?

Zonfrillo says to just go for it. “The first time you use any ingredient there is a familiarity process which I think is fun. It’s no different for any native ingredient, I’d also recommend getting some growing round the house.”

White Aspen can be purchased online at

Disclaimer: Rebecca Sullivan owns native food product label Warndu.

Original Article: Broadsheet

SA foundation gets $1.25m grant to expand native foods industry

Adelaide chef and restaurateur Jock Zonfrillo’s Orana Foundation will receive $1.25 million from the State Government to foster the research, cultivation and production of native foods.

Until now, the not-for-profit foundation has been entirely funded by Zonfrillo (its founder and board director) and his Orana restaurant, working with around 30 Indigenous communities.He says the grant – to be announced in the 2016-17 Mid-Year Budget Review tomorrow – will enable it to expand its work, including building an online database of native foods, establishing a facility to analyse ingredients, and launching a hub to support cultivation projects and the marketing of products.

He says the grant – to be announced in the 2016-17 Mid-Year Budget Review tomorrow – will enable it to expand its work, including building an online database of native foods, establishing a facility to analyse ingredients, and launching a hub to support cultivation projects and the marketing of products.

“It [the funding] is great news for us,” Zonfrillo said.

“The foundation has the potential to do a lot more in each community and touch a lot more communities.”

The State Government said the $1.25 million would help create new jobs in food science and research, promote SA as a centre for food innovation and benefit Indigenous communities.

Premier Jay Weatherill said losing the knowledge about native foods held within Indigenous communities would be a tragedy.

“By supporting the Orana Foundation we can help preserve this knowledge and commercialise native foods by developing product lines and markets both in Australia and overseas for those products.”

Orana, Zonfrillo’s flagship restaurant in Rundle Street, has developed a reputation for its extensive use of native ingredients.

“There are some ingredients we use in Orana that should absolutely, categorically be on the supermarket shelf, such as Geraldton wax … Aboriginal people have been using it to stuff fish for 60,000 years,” Zonfrillo said.

“Something like that really took off in Australia as a cut flower in the cut flower market … we use it in cooking like you would use a herb.”

The $1.25 million government grant will help the Orana Foundation create an open-source database to share information about native foods.

It also plans to set up a research and development facility, to be known as the Australian Food Culture Enterprise, which will analyse ingredients to assess their nutritional information, explore how they have traditionally been used, and look at how they might be used in contemporary cooking.

Zonfrillo said the foundation was currently working on securing a location for the enterprise.

“We’re trying to work out the most economical way of doing it so we can share resources, share tools … in an ideal world it would definitely be based at one of the unis.”

It is intended that an Innovation and Enterprise Hub will be sited at the same location, with its function being to support product cultivation, skills and leadership training, and the market development of products in ways that will benefit Indigenous communities.

Zonfrillo hopes to get the facilities up and running as soon as possible next year.

The chef and restaurateur – who also owns Blackwood and the Nonna Mallozzi food truck – says among the native ingredients he has been introduced to through his visits to Indigenous communities are Moreton Bay fig shoots (“they have this amazing sort of coconut aftertaste – it’s really quite incredible”) and pandanas fruit. Orana ferments the pandanas, which results in two different products – an acidic liquid used in place of base vinegar and a puree with a tropical flavour.

“Learning the cultural aspects of a lot of the ingredients is a key to understanding them and what we can do with them.

“I think it’s fair to say that globally Orana is pretty well-recognised restaurant these days and that’s due a lot to the ingredients we use and how we use them and the only way we’ve been able to do that is by going out into communities and learning from the people and understanding the nutritional value, traditional uses, how they’re connected with their culture and the land.

“To me, that knowledge is incredible and I knew there had to be something more we could do, not just the restaurant … I felt we owed more to this culture of Australia to try to preserve what was left.”

And it’s possible, he said, that the research may just uncover the world’s next “superfood”.

“There are 20,000 edible plants in Australia. When you ask how many have really been looked at closely, it’s very few, so it stands to reason just on a numbers game factor that among our ingredients native to Australia is perhaps the next goji berry or acai fruit just waiting to be realised.”

Original Article: In Daily