In reference to recent stories in the media regarding The Orana Foundation’s Indigenous Food Database, please see the statement below from The Orana Foundation, as well as statements from Primary Industries and Regions South Australia, independent auditor Nexia Edwards Marshall and leading Indigenous Intellectual Property lawyer Dr Terri Janke.
The Board of The Orana Foundation stands by the timing of the Indigenous Food Database delivery and the use of all funds to date.
The Foundation reports into Primary Industries and Regions South Australia on all projects and spend – including donations and expenses outside of the grant – every six months. We are also audited annually by an independent auditor with reports lodged with the Australian Charity and Not-For-Profits Commission.
The database of 1443 native ingredients is complete and has been delivered to Dr Terri Janke, Australia’s leading authority on Indigenous culture and intellectual property, to commence the next stage of ensuring the protection and preservation of Indigenous traditional knowledge.
There is a reason an Indigenous database of its kind hasn’t existed in Australia until now: it’s time consuming, labour intensive, requires extensive funding, and must have a committed team of resilient and passionate people to make it happen. Every person who has contributed to this database has created an important and enduring legacy.
It was a chance encounter almost 20 years ago with an Aboriginal busker named Jimmy, on the waterfront walkways of Sydney’s Circular Quay, that changed Jock Zonfrillo’s turbulent life forever.
The salty Scottish chef is now the driving force behind Adelaide’s Orana, one of Australia’s most progressive restaurants in the vanguard of places championing native Australian ingredients. Others include influential fine-dining establishments such as Attica in Melbourne, whose head chef Ben Shewry had an episode of Netflix’s Chef’s Table dedicated to him, and Peter Gilmore’s restaurants Quay and Bennelong in Sydney.
Back in the ’90s, Zonfrillo had been one of London’s bright young cooks, braising pig’s trotters inside the frenetic, three-Michelin-starred kitchen of the Restaurant Marco Pierre White. It was the dawn of the celebrity chef era and Zonfrillo’s boss was perhaps the very first one. Culinary luminaries such as Gordon Ramsay had trained under White, who had even been dubbed the godfather of this new “art on a plate” style of cooking. European royals, Madonna and princes from the Middle East were just some of the regulars Zonfrillo cooked for.
White’s kitchens were notoriously high-pressure, but the chefs partied as hard as they worked. This was the hedonistic decade of Britpop, Ministry of Sound and Kate Moss, after all. Zonfrillo’s wild lifestyle, however, also included sleeping on the streets. But on the last day of 1999, he packed up and moved to the other side of the world – to Sydney, Australia – to “find a purpose”.
It was something that proved more difficult than he expected. Zonfrillo says that though he loved Sydney, he noticed that Aboriginal culture and its culinary heritage didn’t seem to occupy the honoured place it deserved. Many of the country’s top chefs told him that Aboriginal food traditions simply weren’t worth exploring, that there was no “cuisine” to discover. “So in 2001 I left the kitchen because I couldn’t cook what I thought I should be cooking here in Australia,” he says. That was the day Zonfrillo wandered around Sydney Harbour, winding through the cobbled lanes of The Rocks and discovering Jimmy down at Circular Quay. “I sat down with him and had a four-hour conversation that changed my life.”
Jimmy told beautiful tales of the innate connection Indigenous people have to the land. He explained that in old times, when the tea tree bloomed, communities would come together for a corroboree, a spiritual dance to celebrate the Dreamtime. “But they also organised the corroboree because of food,” says Zonfrillo. “They knew that the tea tree only blossomed when snapper were migrating up the coastline. The trees were sending a message that the snapper had arrived, so they held this big event to hunt the fish and have plenty of it to eat.” Zonfrillo was floored. It was a connection to nature beyond anything he had heard about previously. He realised that people had misunderstood the complexity of what he saw to be the world’s oldest living cuisine.
“The trees were sending a message that the snapper had arrived, so they held this big event in order to hunt the fish and have plenty of it to eat”
Zonfrillo spent years making pilgrimages to far-flung reaches of this vast, sunburnt country, driving for days through the copper-hued, cracked earth of Australia’s dry centre to remote communities. The first was a visit to the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands, an Aboriginal local government area in South Australia of over 100,000km2. It was one of his most confronting and beautiful experiences. “These communities are extraordinarily disadvantaged and there are many serious societal issues, but at the same time they showed me incredible, complex harvesting methods,” he says.
Zonfrillo wants to eliminate the belief many Australians have that Aboriginals had merely survived off the land. “You don’t survive anywhere for 60,000 years – you survive in the freezing cold waters of Alaska for 15 minutes. You thrive for 60,000 years,” he says. In fact, the chef’s early ambition was not to open a restaurant, but rather a food focussed not-for-profit that could somehow give back to the communities he had met. He believed that as a chef, he could connect food and culture and help preserve the harvesting methods he had been shown. But nobody would give him funding. “So it became clear I needed to start the not-for-profit on the back of a really great restaurant.”
Orana, meaning “welcome” in some Aboriginal languages, opened quietly in an elegant upstairs dining space in central Adelaide in 2013. In just five years, the 10-table restaurant has gone on to win two coveted hats (Australia’s equivalent of Michelin stars) and was last year named Gourmet Traveller’s Restaurant of the Year. Zonfrillo’s dinner tasting menu involves a staggering 18 to 20 dishes and is a celebration of Australian ingredients and its Indigenous peoples’ expertise with them.
This palate-pushing food is always evolving. Take, for example, an exquisite salad of kohlrabi pickled in pandan and gubinge (also called the Kakadu plum) which comes with a quandong (known as the native peach), earthy wood sorrel and burrata foam; the dish could be modified the following week to include elderflower, Dorrigo pepper and lemon myrtle instead, depending on what can be sourced from the bush larder. Zonfrillo enthusiastically introduces the latest ingredients his team has been playing with: among them are bunya nuts, which come from prehistoric-sized pine cones that can weigh up to 10kg. These nuts, once a snack for dinosaurs, are cut up to resemble rice and made into a risotto.
The Orana Foundation is now a fully operating not-for-profit organisation, supporting communities to promote native Australian foods, as well as providing skills training and employment. In late 2016, the foundation received a AU$1.25m grant from the state government of South Australia, and six months ago, it partnered with the University of Adelaide on a two-year scientific research project that will build a database of 50,000 or so native Australian ingredients. They hope this will provide the breeding ground for a scalable, sustainable native food production and export industry run by Indigenous communities.
“This all just makes sense,” Zonfrillo says. “Why would you grow rice in Australia with the drought issues we have when we have so many other alternatives?”
Chef Zonfrillo is not alone in making efforts to encourage Indigenous ingredients and cooking methods. Michael Ingrey is the general manager of the National Indigenous Culinary Institute (NICI), which launched in Sydney in 2012 – in 2015 it also set up a campus in Melbourne – and trains around 20 Indigenous apprentice chefs each year. Ingrey hails from an inner-Sydney Aboriginal community in La Perouse, on Botany Bay. It’s part of the Dharawal region, where millennium-old rock engravings by the Dharawal people are found on cliffs that run down the coastline.
“My dream is to see one of our students as the head chef of a world-class fine-dining restaurant,” says Ingrey.
NICI graduates and twin brothers Luke and Samuel Bourke aren’t too far off. Luke is now employed at Sydney’s famed Rockpool while Sam works nearby at Rosetta, another of Neil Perry’s fine-dining restaurants. Despite the Western flavours foregrounded at their day jobs, they’ve both taken on the responsibility to pay tribute to their roots. Luke has spent time foraging in Sydney and Canberra with Elijah Holland, a chef who now runs Natures Pick, which supplies seasonal wild ingredients to restaurants. One of the highlights for him was discovering saltbush, a native herb that flourishes in the arid climate of central Australia. Samuel, meanwhile, travelled to the Tiwi Islands off the coast of Darwin. “It was a deep dive into how native foods are sustainably caught and grown and how healthy they are,” he says.
What Zonfrillo, Ingrey and the twins are perhaps most interested in, though, is how food could be a conduit for reconciliation in Australia. “The best conversations start over the dinner table. If people can start talking positively about native ingredients and food, this will flow on to the other bigger issues – human rights, colonisation and coming to terms with this country’s dark past,” Ingrey says. “Food creates community connections and partnerships, and therefore a greater understanding about culture and traditions,” adds Luke.
“Food creates community connections and partnerships, and therefore a greater understanding about culture and traditions”.
Located in Melbourne’s Fitzroy, Charcoal Lane is the only hatted social enterprise restaurant in Australia. Everything at Charcoal Lane is a celebration of Indigenous Australia, from the unique cuisine to the cocktails and the fascinating stories and knowledge that its Indigenous chefs and front-of-house team pass on to patrons. Even the building has a significant history as the former home of the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service.
The chefs here are passionate about the protection of the native ingredients they use. “You can’t compare the kales and the quinoas to what we have in our backyard,” says Spencer Holmes, one of Charcoal Lane’s third-year apprentices who will graduate this year. He explains that the Kakadu plum, a small, green desert fruit that looks like an olive, has the same vitamin C content as around 20 oranges.
Charcoal Lane opened in 2009 and has about 30 students from disadvantaged backgrounds enrolled in its Certificate II programme each year. Holmes prepares a tasting plate and describes the colourful spread: there’s karkalla, a plump and crunchy native succulent found on sand dunes and cliff faces around the country’s rugged shores, that tastes like high-quality anchovy; a medley of jewel-coloured berries and the ingredient du jour, the finger lime; and a smoked eel mille-feuille with a crunchy twig of saltbush and a slice of emu. “It means the world to me to have the chance to learn about the food my ancestors cooked,” says Holmes.
Back in Adelaide, Jock Zonfrillo brings our chat back to Jimmy the busker. He hasn’t seen him since their discussion, but often thinks of him. Circular Quay was, ironically, the site of the first landing of the First Fleet in Port Jackson on 26 January, 1788, a date Australia celebrates as its national day. There has been significant debate about whether a celebration of this date is appropriate, and a groundswell of support for changing it.
Zonfrillo is just one of those campaigners and hopes the food of Orana can help educate a wider group of people on the importance of reconciliation. “Food is a subject that crosses all boundaries and cultures. That connection to food, the land, the earth – that is something that so many people in the world right now are looking for, and it’s been here the whole time.”
Showcasing ingredients such as finger lime, eucalyptus and green ants, Scottish-born chef Jock Zonfrillo is redefining Australian cuisine one dish at a time.
Owner-chef of Adelaide’s Restaurant Orana and founder of The Orana Foundation, Mr Zonfrillo has made it his mission to preserve the food heritage of Indigenous peoples, integrate native food into Australian gastronomy and ensure the benefits of an Australian native produce industry are returned to the Indigenous communities involved.
Mr Zonfrillo was recently awarded the Food for Good Award at the 2018 Good Food Guide Awards, held in October.
The prestigious award recognises The Orana Foundation’s work, including the creation of an online database of native foods in partnership with the University of Adelaide, realised with the help of a $1.25 million South Australian government grant.
Having lived in Australia for around two decades and contributed to our food culture in an unprecedented way, Mr Zonfrillo believes that his upbringing and heritage have played a huge role in leading him to where he is today.
With a traditional Scottish first name and an unmistakably Italian surname, Mr Zonfrillo is the product of an unlikely collision of cultures.
Born in Glasgow, the forward-thinking chef was raised by a Scottish mother and an Italian father, who migrated from the coastal village of Scauri, in the region of Lazio, with his family as a young boy.
Mr Zonfrillo’s childhood was heavily influenced by the two contrasting cultures, and as a “young lad”, his Italian roots had a particular hold over him.
“The Italian food and passion for life is very different from the Scottish one,” he reflected.
“I preferred the outgoing, loud family atmosphere that was on the Italian side.”
Food was an integral part of Mr Zonfrillo’s upbringing, especially Italian cuisine, and is central to some of the chef’s earliest and fondest memories.
“There was an Italian deli in Glasgow, called Fazzi’s, and the memory of walking in, holding my nonna’s hand and smelling fresh focaccia, salami and parmesan, is engrained in my head,” he said.
Raised on a plate of pasta every day, Mr Zonfrillo inherited many family recipes passed down the generations, including the Roman classic, cacio e pepe, which currently stars on the menu of Orana’s sister restaurant, Bistro Blackwood.
“This dish is very close to my heart and when it’s made properly it’s an art form,” he said.
“I’m a Nazi about it because my nonni were Nazis about it and their parents were, too.
“It is pasta, it is pecorino and it is pepper – that’s it!”
Mr Zonfrillo’s career began in Scotland’s great country house hotels, and soon led him to London where he worked with myriad revered chefs, including Marco Pierre White.
He first came to Australia in the 1990s, spending a year at Sydney’s Restaurant 41.
It was during this time, that an encounter with an Aboriginal man planted a seed which would later sprout into The Orana Foundation.
The idea was put on hold, however, as Mr Zonfrillo returned to the UK to pursue various career opportunities.
His fascination with Australia refused to dwindle, and he returned in 2000, eventually settling in Adelaide and opening Restaurant Orana and Bistro Blackwood.
With a moniker which means “welcome” in some Aboriginal dialect, the former celebrates all elements of Australia – from the ancient to the modern – to create a cuisine that is unique to Mr Zonfrillo and which redefines Australia’s modern gastronomic identity.
If you’re fortunate enough to eat at the intimate restaurant, which seats around 20 people, your palate will be introduced to a whole new world of dishes, from kangaroo tendon and Tasmanian mountain pepper, to paperbark, macadamia and zig zag wattle.
And instead of a basket of bread to accompany your meal, you can expect to be brought potato damper to complete the experience.
Not quite regulars on the market yet, the native ingredients featured on Orana’s menu make it onto diners’ plates thanks to a network of Indigenous people around the country, who supply seasonal products all year round.
“Every time I go into a new community I make new friends and learn about new ingredients,” Mr Zonfrillo said.
“All of a sudden, we’re creating a fair trade situation which benefits the community and ourselves – we buy the products from them, and we’re able to add another couple of ingredients to our menu that we may not have had before.”
Orana also employs two foragers – one based in northern Australia and one in Adelaide – while Mr Zonfrillo and his team have also begun growing some of the products themselves.
Mr Zonfrillo could be considered a pioneer of a new culinary craze, as native Australian products begin to pop up on plates across the nation.
“Five or six years ago, you would struggle to find native ingredients in most restaurants,” Mr Zonfrillo said.
“These days, it’s fair to say, there are a lot of these ingredients being used in restaurants on all levels, from cafes to fine dining.”
While the nation is captivated by Mr Zonfrillo’s work to date, the determined chef stresses that there is still much more to be done.
“As we move forward we’re always looking for projects that we can create within Aboriginal communities that make a real change to the people in them,” he explained.
“The foundation’s aims, goals and dreams are so big and I know it’s such a long process.”
With the ferocity of a Scotsman, the passion of an Italian and the can-do attitude of an Aussie, Mr Zonfrillo is certainly up to the challenge.
The winner of this award, which celebrates innovation, charity and sustainability, goes above and beyond to contribute to the broader community.
Orana Foundation, South Australia
Jock Zonfrillo dreams of a future where bunya nuts share shelf space with cashews, and quandong jam outsells strawberry. The Orana chef has expanded the discoveries of his Adelaide restaurant into a foundation that preserves the food heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and integrates native foods into our culinary culture. Most importantly, Zonfrillo strives to ensure any benefits of a new native produce industry are returned to Indigenous communities. The Orana Foundation has also partnered with the University of Adelaide to create an online database of native foods, including their culinary uses and nutritional information, a resource that generations of Australians will be able to learn from. There’s more than one way to cook a tanami apple.
After more than 50 years as the country’s leading food magazine, Gourmet Traveller knows a thing or two about how to throw a good party. And that’s exactly what happened in Sydney last night when Australia’s food heroes and hot new talents gathered for the annual GT Restaurant Awards.
Adelaide’s Orana was named Australia’s Restaurant of the Year – the first restaurant outside Sydney and Melbourne in two decades to take home the award. Owner-chef Jock Zonfrillo accepted the top gong.
Mat Lindsay of Ester in Sydney took out the peer-voted Chef of the Year award, while 28-year-old seafood savant Josh Niland, of Saint Peter in Paddington, was named Best New Talent.
The awards mark the publication of the 2018 Australian Restaurant Guide: 409 restaurants around the country reviewed and rated for your dining pleasure. The glam gala dinner was held at Chin Chin in Surry Hills, the new restaurant from pioneering Melbourne restaurateur Chris Lucas. The first Sydney outpost of Melbourne’s favourite South East Asian hotspot has been a long time coming, and the Oscars of the Australian food world were the perfect excuse to throw open the doors early.
Set in the historic Griffiths Teas building, Chin Chin Sydney didn’t disappoint. It was a night of exceptional food and even more exceptional company. Guests including Andrew McConnell, Dan Hunter and Kate Reid flew into town for the awards, enjoying cocktails, laughs and plenty of high-fives with other respected hospitality players such as Kylie Kwong, Justin Hemmes, Matt Moran, Dan Hong, Peter Gilmore and Neil Perry.
It wouldn’t be a celebration of the best of Australian dining without an impressive feast, and the Chin Chin team did a stellar job feeding the country’s most respected cooks. Louis Roederer Champagne and wines from Murdoch Hill flowed as chefs, sommeliers, restaurateurs and maîtres d’ mingled over crab, curry and coconut sandwiches, and chilli-fragrant mussels on rice cakes.
As the awards got under way, winter was put in its place with a fiery banquet: lobster and crab jungle curry, caramelised pork with sour herb salad, and beef short-rib with coconut salad among the highlights.
Other coveted awards included Wine List of the Year, which went to the newly opened Kisumé in Melbourne, and Regional Restaurant of the Year, awarded to Igni in Geelong. Sydney’s eatery of the moment Fred’s scored a double win with New Restaurant of the Year and, for Caitlyn Rees, Sommelier of the Year. Celebrated food-waste activist Ronni Kahn, of OzHarvest, accepted her Outstanding Contribution to Hospitality award to a standing ovation.
Along with the reveal of the 2018 guide, GT is celebrating its new redesign: the September issue has a fresh look that’s all about keeping it fun and inspiring. It was a sensational evening with plenty of laughs, music and cocktails flowing well into the night (the Four Pillars Venti, made with Bloody Shiraz Gin, Venticinque Bitter and sweet vermouth was a favourite).
“Whatever you like about good food, there’s something here for you,” said chief critic Pat Nourse, before leading the charge to the after party. “It’s never been a better time to be a diner in Australia. However you like to enjoy yourself at the table, at the bar or in the kitchen, there’s a year’s worth of great fun in these pages.”
And with that, we’re proud to bring you the Gourmet Traveller 2018 Australian Restaurant Guide, presented in association with Vittoria Coffee and Santa Vittoria, and supporting sponsor Ilve. For more details on all the award winners plus a year of wonderful eating, pick up your copy with the September issue, on sale now at all good newsagents.
The University of Adelaide and The Orana Foundation, founded by chef Jock Zonfrillo, have announced a major new research partnership to support the development of an Australian native food industry.
The partnership will deliver a key pillar of The Orana Foundation’s aims to foster the research and cultivation of native Australian ingredients for the benefit of remote Indigenous communities.
“Jock Zonfrillo and his Orana restaurant in Adelaide, have set an innovative path with his use of native ingredients and, through The Orana Foundation, Jock is seeking to preserve and evolve Australian food culture into sustainable industry that makes the most of Indigenous traditional knowledge and benefits Indigenous communities,” says Professor Andy Lowe, Director, Food Innovation at the University of Adelaide.
“The University of Adelaide has extensive research capability in food-related areas and we look forward to working with The Orana Foundation to understand more about the food ingredients that exist, their nutritional profile, their potential use in foods, and how they can best be cultivated and produced for commercial use.”
Jock Zonfrillo, founder and Chair of The Orana Foundation says: “The Orana Foundation was inspired by the first Australians’ unique relationship with the land, and sophisticated knowledge of traditional food culture.
“It is critically important for the success of this project that as a result of this scientific research and analysis, Indigenous communities are able to gain significant benefits from sharing their knowledge, through direct involvement in future cultivation, harvesting and supply of native ingredients.”
The research partnership is funded as part of a $1.25 million South Australian Government grant to The Orana Foundation.
“I’m so excited to see this project come to life,” says Jock Zonfrillo. “It’s been a long-term dream of mine to expand the work of Orana restaurant into a Foundation that brings recognition to Australian native wild ingredients, and the traditional food culture practice of the first Australian communities.
“For the past 15 years I have personally been privileged to work with remote Indigenous communities to learn something of this incredible culture. To create the first ever comprehensive database building on past and current knowledge from a wide range of sources will, I hope, allow many more people to access and share these rich food sources of Australia.”
There are four research components to the partnership:
Building a native food database (in collaboration with South Australian Museum and Botanic Gardens of South Australia). The collation of a new comprehensive database of existing and new knowledge of native plants used by Indigenous communities, drawing on anthropological and botanical sources, with culturally significant practice shared with Jock Zonfrillo in working with remote Indigenous communities.
Conduct a food qualities assessment. The Australian Bioactive Compounds Centre (a joint centre between the University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia) will assess the nutritional profile and potential for bioactive compounds of Aboriginal food plants, in particular looking at their sugar, protein, vitamin, anti-oxidant and fibre content and glycaemic index.
Food flavours assessment. Ingredients that have a high nutritional profile and great taste and flavour will be assessed as food potential. Chefs from The Orana Foundation will work with the University of Adelaide’s FOODplus Research Centre to determine the optimal preparation and cooking requirements for these native plant species, which will then be assessed for flavour, texture and visual appeal. A new experimental kitchen facility will be established at the University’s Waite campus.
Plant production assessment. Optimal cultivation conditions for high potential food plants will be assessed for commercial horticulture. Growth trials will be carried out simulating arid or semi-arid environments in dry undercover facilities.
Media Contact: Professor Andy Lowe,
Director, Food Innovation, University of Adelaide.
Phone: +61 8 8313 1149,
Mobile: +61 (0)434 607 705, email@example.com
Tomorrow’s 2016-17 Mid-Year Budget Review will include $1.25 million for the Orana Foundation to expand their work in the research, cultivation and production of indigenous Australian foods.
The funding, to be provided this financial year, will help create new jobs in food science and research and will promote South Australia as a centre for food innovation, combining indigenous traditional knowledge with food science and contemporary culinary practice.
The grant will enable the Orana Foundation to work with indigenous communities to:
Build an online native food database to capture and preserve knowledge gathered from Indigenous communities, early settlers, anthropologists and botanists;
Establish an Australian Food Culture Enterprise to identify, test and analyse a wider range of ingredients suitable for food preparation and health products;
Launch an enterprise hub to directly support product cultivation projects, skills and leadership training, market development and product placement and supply.
Benefits to the indigenous community will include the preservation of traditional knowledge of the land and native ingredients, reconnecting young Indigenous people through education and training and the creation of sustainable commercial enterprise within remote Indigenous communities.
The Orana Foundation was launched by Adelaide chef Jock Zonfrillo after years working with remote indigenous communities to discover first hand their food culture and breadth of native ingredients, which are almost wholly unknown outside those communities.
The Foundation aims 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.
Quotes attributable to Premier Jay Weatherill
It is incredible that as a society we are so unfamiliar with native foods that sustained indigenous communities for millennia.
To lose the knowledge held within these communities would be a tragedy, but understanding and promoting this food culture also represents a significant opportunity for indigenous peoples and the food sector in South Australia.
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.
Quotes attributable to Orana Foundation Founder and Director Jock Zonfrillo
The Orana Foundation is the culmination of some fifteen years of direct engagement with remote indigenous communities and their elders, where so much of this knowledge resides.
This knowledge is fast disappearing as elders pass on and through the absence of intergenerational transfer, and without formal collection and preservation it will be lost forever.
Australia is extraordinarily rich in native foods with high health and nutritional properties, but has been slow to promote and develop this potential.
Only a handful of ingredients have been the subject market and product development, and even those products are produced in quantities that are insufficient to meet the current demand from the Australian restaurant industry.
This grant will give the Orana Foundation the resources it needs to undertake the research required to preserve this knowledge and develop products and markets for native Australian produce.
No one knows this better than Aboriginal historian and writer Bruce Pascoe. Pascoe’s 2014 book, Dark Emu, drew upon a wealth of evidence – including explorers’ notebooks and colonial diaries – to prove that Aboriginal people cultivated crops prior to white settlement. “Aboriginal people had an agricultural economy, which does indicate ownership of the land,” Pascoe tells Time Out.
The discovery of a 30,000-year-old grindstone in Cuddie Springs, NSW stands as proof that Aboriginal people were the first to grind flour – and in turn may be regarded as the world’s first bakers. “They ground grains to make flour and starches, and used ferments of bush honey and banksia to bake breads,” Pascoe says.
His research into the agricultural practices of Aboriginal Australians inspired him to start a Pozible campaign and launch the Gurandgi Munjie Food Company. “We’ve been working on cultivating kangaroo grass, native millet and murnong (yam daisy). They’re highly nutritious – much more so than wheat – they promote good digestion, and most don’t have any gluten.”
But the big plus is their effect on the environment. “I don’t know why it has taken Australia so long to consider these plants, but it’s now more important than ever. As they are perennial, you don’t need to turn over the soil, and they have massive root systems, so they are drought-resistant.”
Another of Australia’s biggest proponents of Indigenous ingredients is Scottish-born chef Jock Zonfrillo. When Zonfrillo arrived 16 years ago, he was struck by the lack of defined Australian cuisine. Since then, he’s been on a mission to showcase our native foods, cultivating relationships with communities across the country.
His acclaimed Restaurant Orana in Adelaide features 400-odd ingredients throughout the year, and his work with the Orana Foundation aims to catalogue 1,000 indigenous foods in its first 12 months.
In conjunction with the University of Adelaide, the Botanic Gardens and the South Australian Museum, the Orana Foundation is collating the nutritional, medicinal, seasonal and culinary properties of native foods into an open-source database. By documenting these traditional ingredients and techniques, Jock hopes to not only preserve this knowledge, but also bring our native foods to a wider audience.
We talked to Zonfrillo at the Estrella Damm Gastronomy Congress in April as part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival about how he goes about introducing native ingredients to the wider public. “The challenge with presenting ingredients such as Kakadu plums is they’re not that delicious on their own. A lot of them are like a bulb of garlic… you wouldn’t pick a bulb of garlic out of the ground, bite into it and say, ‘mmm that’s delicious.’ But when you braise it in a stew or casserole, it is, and that’s the thing that no one has taken the time to do. We want people to come to Orana and eat indigenous ingredients, and go, ‘Fuck me, they’re delicious’.”
Sharon Windsor is the founder of Indigiearth, an Aboriginal-owned native products business based in Mudgee, NSW. Windsor believes in the importance of encouraging Indigenous ownership and Indigenous self-determination when it comes to the commercialisation of bush foods. “Unfortunately some big buyers go into communities and don’t pay fair prices or don’t pay at all,” she says. “If you’re going to use native ingredients, ask suppliers if they’re Indigenous. Ask what their Indigenous involvements are, and what they put back into communities.”
“You can’t eat our food if you can’t swallow our history,” adds Pascoe. “You can’t have these products without our culture. And these products will be in supermarkets within three years. I hope Aboriginal people are going to make money out of this… but it will depend on you.”
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.”