Jock Zonfrillo: The Force of Food

Scottish born Jock Zonfrillo is one of the people helping to define Australian cuisine.

Working from his Orana restaurant in Adelaide, the curious chef has helped to research and unearth native ingredients that have been largely forgotten in culinary circles, unless you look at the indigenous populations of Australia.

Speaking at the recent Food on The Edge symposium in Galway, Ireland, Zonfrillo offered up his own motivations on why he has dedicated much of his work to highlight the food traditions of the indigenous natives living in the country.

The chef discusses how he discovered a very deep connection between indigenous people and food with just one quick conversation, and how he then decided, with the help of a new foundation, to research and understand the culture of Australia with the aim of bringing back some of the pride that can be associated with the wonderful food on offer across the culture.

It’s not an easy story to tell, and perhaps the fact that Zonfrillo isn’t from Australia originally is what helps him to tackle what is still a very sensitive issue across the country.

Original Article: Fine Dining Lovers

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

Native uprising

What is a taste of Australia? Waves of immigration have painted broad culinary brushstrokes and shaped our cooking, making Australia one of the most open-minded, adventurous and diverse culinary nations on the globe.

But Looking at the food culture we’ve created it is very apparent what it isn’t – natural.

It has only been relatively recently we have seen this veil lift. Chefs, albeit predominantly foreign chefs, are placing the emphasis on our native ingredients, learning their stories and understanding the virtues hidden in what remains a very foreign landscape for far too many.

Ben Shewry, who runs Attica, one of Australia’s most lauded restaurants, is one such chef. A New Zealander, Shewry has built his restaurant on innovation and understanding of the local environment. Alongside his large gardens at Ripponlea, Melbourne, Shewry’s team are often found foraging for local ingredients along our shores. Dishes such as wattleseed bread, salted red kangaroo with bunya bunya and goolwa pippies are testament to this.

Scottish chef Jock Zonfrillo, of Orana in Adelaide, has taken this a step (or is it a giant leap) further by spending weeks at a time visiting remote regions of Australia to learn from Australia’s indigenous people. The lessons he is bringing back into his kitchen are fascinating. This has been his approach from the beginning:

“I was told in the mid 90s, when I first arrived in Australia, there wasn’t much to investigate with regards to Australian food,” explains Zonfrillo, “I thought it impossible that there was 50,000 years of some kind of food culture and ingredients that were not worth looking at.”

Of course, Zonfrillo was right.

“I took myself down to Circular Quay and sat down next to an Aboriginal fella who was busking with a Didgeridoo.

“I introduced myself and asked if I could talk about food and culture with him. We had conversations that day about catching a particular fish and only using a specific wood to cook that fish, how hot the coals had to be, the aroma of the fish as it cooked over the coals and how the plant within weeped its citric juices through the fish from the inside out – I could have been talking to a highly trained chef.”

Indigenous Agriculture

Our soil is some of the oldest in the world. It is unique and very delicate. And yet, all the crops and animals we put in it and over it, all the fresh produce in our supermarkets and our farmers’ markets, are foreign species only introduced over the past two centuries.

In Bruce Pascoe’s book Dark Emu he presents a compelling argument for pre-colonial agriculture in Australia, citing examples of complex aquaculture systems, grain crops and indeed silos, and seasonal planning. While the book serves to throw off the hunter-gatherer label of indigenous Australia, it also serves to open up the question as to what else has been missed.

For example, many Aboriginal nations worked to a six-season cycle for the year. This was not prescribed across the whole country, with different Aboriginal nations working to different timetables depending on the earth, the migratory patterns of the local animals and the weather (with the wind as much a factor as the rains).

Why did we think a cookie-cutter idea of seasonal variation would be the most applicable to our wide, brown land?

A World of Wonder

The flavours of our native ingredients are also an amazing untapped resource. Just like our soils, these indigenous ingredients have not been tampered with, they are almost exactly as they were 20,000 years ago. Working with our native ingredients is an opportunity to cook with history – heirloom vegetables and heritage breeds of the utmost purity.

Of course, working with Australia’s native ingredients is not without its difficulties. They have not been bred to sit on supermarket shelves, they have not been cross-pollinated to withstand hours, if not days, on trucks traversing the country like modern-day produce.

Vic Cherikoff, author of Wild Foods, looks to the quandong to illustrate this point: “It’s a fruit that can be picked over a five- or six-week period off the same tree, requiring at least three or four visits to complete the harvest. They will be over-ripe in a matter of days, with the blue quandang it’s over-ripe in a matter of hours.”

Most of these native ingredients are not commercially grown. Furthermore, many of these ingredients thrive in parts of arid Australia that have been largely ignored by modern industry, meaning transport in and out is difficult and costs are high. Thus, most of these ingredients are only available frozen, dehydrated or in powdered form.

Cherikoff, who has been working with native ingredients for decades, has actually made this the central component of his business. He now works with powders and spices to make a powdered supplement rather than try to promote the individual ingredients.

“Unfortunately native ingredients suffered some major negativity back in the ’80s and ’90s so without question that has had an impact,” says Zonfrillo.

“Secondly, the prices we are seeing make it impossible for many kitchens to use them, let alone someone at home, and finally, supply is pretty scarce across the board. New directions and directives need to be taken within the native foods industry in Australia in order to make Australian ingredients accessible, affordable and a wanted commodity.”

The Need for a Common Goal

Not all the roadblocks are natural, in fact, many are bureaucratic. It was only 30-odd years ago that kangaroo meat was first made available for commercial sale. It is now the exception and the rule. Government legislation stipulates that emu, for example, cannot be taken from the wild, but must be farmed, making the fledgling industry almost impossible to get off the ground.

Valuing these ingredients is a big part of the problem. For many years, while we were sowing wheat, herding sheep and crushing grapes, there was only one Australian native under cultivation – the macadamia. Even then, we exported the trees to Hawaii, which now produces 95 percent of the world’s macadamia needs.

We spend billions every year on research and development for the wheat and cattle industries of Australia (among many other foreign food items), and leave our native produce to flounder.

Zonfrillo has his own plan for this, setting up the Orana Foundation.

“Over the years we have been able to assist communities in setting up micro businesses, mainly in wild harvest. Wild food is a commodity which we are not only happy to trade in, but also to understand and tell our customers the story of an ingredient, its history, traditional uses and its cultural significance to the land from which it came,” explains Zonfrillo.

“The Foundation will continue this work on a much larger scale, touching more communities, more people, more opportunities while ensuring we collate and document as much of the historic information together. We have many projects awaiting funding from both government and philanthropists, which will commence this year, enabling us to do the most important part – give back.”

Culinary identity as a tourist driver is a familiar concept. The arrival of Rene Redzepi and the Noma team to our shores, a collaboration between Tourism Australia, Lendlease and the Noma team, has required significant government investment. Their mission was to cook with indigenous ingredients.

“We couldn’t have created Noma Australia if we had not travelled this vast country,” says Redzepi. “You need to meet the people who are harvesting, growing, catching, foraging your food. Once you meet them, and you understand their work, you start planning what flavours you want.

“On my many trips around Australia I’ve seen a larder that is so foreign to me. Foraging for abalone, eating fresh muntries, nibbling on pepper berries and cracking open a bunya nut – these experiences are so wild compared to what we’re used to in Europe. Spending time with indigenous communities in places like Arnhem Land have left the biggest impact on me and the Noma team.”

It will be interesting to see the impact of Noma Australia, and another foreign chef, on our local palates. It would not be a wild leap to suggest many of these ingredients are as foreign to Australians as they have been to the Danes.

The Identity we Deserve

Redzepi’s restaurant in Copenhagen is widely considered the best in the world. However, it was his vision for the restaurant that is particularly interesting. Redzepi is almost solely responsible for turning Copenhagen’s culinary glance inwards, a move that eventually led to the world glancing (glaring) in their direction. Alex Atala of D.O.M. in Brazil has done likewise, while Magnus Nilsson of Favikan has literally written the book on it for Sweden. Their focus on local ingredients has meant more than the success of their restaurants, it has resulted in an interest in their country’s cuisine (and culture) from all corners of the globe.

This is not a new phenomenon. In the 1600s the French began to fear their economic dependence on the spice route. To tackle this they made a decision to turn their cuisine inwards, promoting the ingredients from their own backyard over the foreign spices. The result was not just to loosen the grip of the spice trade, but the creation of a French identity, a symbol that has endured for centuries. We can, in part, thank the spice trade for the ubiquitous French restaurant.

This could be the revolution we are seeing in Australia now. It’s a big deal, because it has the potential to shine a positive light on the culinary culture of indigenous Australia. It is an opportunity to celebrate knowledge and build respect; an opportunity to build a culinary identity for Australia that includes all Australians. It’s about time.

Original Article: Wine Selectors

Foraging is the new black in Australian cuisine

When Jude Mayall first launched her Australian native food business, Outback Chef, “no one wanted to know” about the complex, strong flavours of indigenous Australian herbs and plants.

“Many Australians don’t have any associations with bush food at all, have never tried it [and] feel it belongs around a campfire,” explains Ms Mayall, deputy chair of the sector’s top body, the Australian Native Food Industry Limited (ANFIL).

Early white settlers considered native cuisine a “poor man’s food”, she adds, and thought it had “no nutritional value whatsoever”.

The stigma stuck. Gimmicky “Bush Tucker” restaurants, which sprang up in the 1980s serving often tasteless cuisine and sporting gaudy interiors, only served to reinforce popular opinion.

Today, that is changing as uncultivated, sustainable, and foraged food becomes fashionable.

In cities across the world chefs are just as likely to serve wild handpicked mushrooms as farmed potatoes, and Australia is following suit.

Acclaimed Danish chef Rene Redzepi, who has done so much to highlight the value of foraging and wild food with his award winning Copenhagen Noma restaurant, is relocating his entire restaurant staff to Sydney next year with a menu inspired by native flora and fauna along the shoreline.

Restaurants such as Attica in Melbourne, Billy Kwong and Quay in Sydney, and Bistro Dom in Adelaide, are incorporating native foods such as old man saltbush, warrigal greens and wattleseed into their menus.

Italian-born artist and forager, Diego Bonetto, who offers guided wild harvesting trips in Sydney, links the growing interest in eating foraged foods to “environmental guilt”.

“We as a society are becoming – rightfully – concerned with the impact we are having on other species and resources,” he says.

“Attention to provenance and seasonality is an answer to that, trying to reduce the environmental costs of a distribution chain that transport items back and forth all over the world.”

Meanwhile, scientific research is starting to show the health benefits of indigenous foods that grow wild in native soil, free from fertilisers and genetic modification.

Many are rich in antioxidants, enzyme regulators and anti-inflammatories; others, such as the Kakadu plum, are being pegged as super-foods.

Foraging was not always the domain of chefs and tourist tours, however. Growing up in Scotland, Jock Zonfrillo remembers it was commonplace for ordinary families.

“It was pretty normal having that connection to the land,” says the UK chef, who relocated to Australia in 2000, and has his own TV show, Nomad Chef.

“That all disappeared when food got fancy and everyone got obsessed with Michelin stars.”

Used by indigenous Australians for tens of thousands of years, the recent rediscovery of bush foods is due to “new fads” in the industry, says Mr Zonfrillo.

At Adelaide restaurant Orana, (which means “welcome” in many Aboriginal languages), Mr Zonfrillo uses no less than 68 wild and foraged ingredients in his tasting menu.

He hired a forager in Byron Bay, Peter Hardwick, and trained his chefs to search for ingredients more local to the restaurant in the Adelaide Hills or along the South Australian coast.

Crucially, Mr Zonfrillo, spends time with rural Aboriginal communities in the bush to learn about their cuisine.

He is now in the process of setting up the Orana Foundation, which will categorise local native ingredients and protect and preserve Aboriginal food knowledge by connecting with Indigenous Australian elders.

“We would never ever go down that path without having authorisation [from Aboriginal people] to be on that land and secondly to find out from an Aboriginal community what that use of an ingredient is, its nutrition, or how it’s ingrained in their culture,” he says.

Foraging is not without issues, including the risk of depletion of native plants as it becomes more popular.

Mr Bonetto warns: “Never over harvest, leave no trace, be nice to soils and colonies.”

Foragers also have to be careful not to pick from areas sprayed with herbicides or near industrial sites where they may have been contaminated by heavy metals.

In 2012, a chef and his kitchen hand in Canberra died after accidently picking and cooking death cap mushrooms on New Year’s Eve.

“If you are unable to identify it, don’t pick it – rule number one,” insists Mr Zonfrillo, who has ingredients tested by scientists at local universities before adding them to the menu.

Ms Mayall wants Australians to move away from hackneyed ideas of native cuisines and recognise it is easy to incorporate them into everyday life.

“I just think, quite simply, eat what the land provides and you couldn’t get closer,” she says.

“It’s not hard to put some wattleseed into muffins, make a jam with Davidson Plums or use Tasmanian Mountain Pepper on our eggs and bacon. It really is that simple.”

Original Article: BBC News

Chef Jock Zonfrillo Defines Australian Cuisine

The young chef scours the Outback in his one-man crusade to bring native ingredients and Aboriginal culinary traditions to fine dining.

Late on a hot, dry spring afternoon, two men and a dog (a three-quarters dingo) cut across a barren stretch of the coastal outback. The younger man is a chef, 38-year-old Jock Zonfrillo, a rangy Scotsman who for the past 15 years has made Australia his home. His friend Bruno Dann—a 63-year-old Nyul Nyul elder who supplies Zonfrillo with ingredients native to this region—leads the way across a slow-flowing stream…

Original Article: The Wall Street Journal

Australian native food and the man who wants to bring it to the masses

Chef Jock Zonfrillo wants Australian native ingredients on supermarket shelves, and he’s working hard to make that happen.

Read anything about Scottish-born chef Jock Zonfrillo and you’ll inevitably find some statement about him “redefining” or “reinventing” Australian cuisine. So then, what does “Australian cuisine” mean to the man who’s redefining it? It’s not a revolutionary answer: it’s a combination of old and new, of past and present. It’s pretty much the answer you’d expect from most people: “Everything from traditional Aboriginal food and ingredients and recipes, right through to the Australia Day obsession with Sam Kekovich’s lamb.” We’ve got it all, why not use it? The big difference here, is that, in practice, most people leave the traditional out. When was the last time you saw kutjera, riberry, muntries or dorrigal pepper on a menu? Zonfrillo says, “I think [native ingredients] should really be at the heart of what an Australian cuisine is, but also encapsulate what happened at settlement, and what came from settlement, which obviously was some amazing ingredients – lamb included.”

Which is just what Zonfrillo and his team are doing in their Adelaide restaurants Street-ADL (a casual steak and burger joint) and the 25-seat fine dining space upstairs, Orana.

“There was nothing ‘Australian’, which really struck me … I was just confused and thought, ‘What is this strange cuisine, I don’t get it’.”

My question regarding whether a national culinary identity is important is dismissed as absurd. Zonfrillo laughs, “Of course!” Arriving in Sydney in the mid 90s, he couldn’t get a grip on our food culture. “I mean, Tetsuya’s was Japanese, Neil Perry was doing a sort of Asian thing, Claude’s was very French, and Forty One was a kind of fusion of French and, I guess, Japanese, but there was nothing ‘Australian’, which really struck me … I was just confused and thought, ‘What is this strange cuisine, I don’t get it’. And very naively questioned, where were all the kangaroos, and where were all the Aboriginal people. It felt odd, as a chef, to land in a country, that I couldn’t kind of reach out and touch it, to feel the cuisine.”

Zonfrillo believes that part of the resistance and disinterest towards Australia’s native foods is based on misconceptions, lack of information and that tragically Australian affliction, cultural cringe. “A lot of native ingredients got pretty tarnished going through the ‘bush tucker’ era … there were a couple of good restaurants but an awful lot of awful things occurred during that time and I think it just got a bad taste in people’s mouths. That’s why, categorically, people get facial neuralgia when you say ‘native ingredients’.”

Why is he so passionate about Australia’s Indigenous food culture? “It’s really the depth of it, and the longevity of it, it’s really been around for an awful long time and it’s been so rarely explored by the culinary world, and there’s a lot of sort of misconceptions within it that.”

Wanting to learn more about Australian cuisine when he first arrived here from the UK, Zonfrillo discovered there were really no resources available to chefs. “The first Aboriginal person I spoke to was a homeless guy who was playing the didgeridoo down in Circular Quay. I wanted to find out and to learn about Aboriginal people, the culture, the ingredients, and what those ingredients mean to their culture. I didn’t know anybody, so I just stopped at this homeless guy and I just asked him some questions – can you tell me about some recollections, some memories of food you ate when you were a kid, what did mum or dad cook?” An intricate story followed, of stingray caught at a certain time of year, when a particular plant is in full bloom, signifying the time of year when the stingray have engorged livers. “But when they go and hunt them there’s a particular time of day, when the tide reaches a certain point – and [the man’s] showing me the level on his shin – you’ve got to wait until the water’s just there, at a certain time of day when the tide’s on the way out and then, for about 15 or 20 minutes, they’re plentiful, and you can just spearfish them.”

The stingray is cooked over burning hot coals, “So he’s talking about building the fire up, letting the fire die down until the coals are white hot, putting the stingray belly-side down, onto the coals. The belly skin, because it’s engorged and stretched, as soon as it hits the hot coals it bursts.” The liver is removed and set aside while the fish is cooked. The fish rests while the liver goes back on the coals and seared for 30 seconds on each side. “Then they strip the fish off the bone and mix it with the liver, so it’s kind of like an awesome brandade [an emulsion of salt cod and olive oil] … my mouth was watering when he was talking about it.”

Zonfrillo explains that this story contradicted everything he’d heard about Aboriginal cooking from workmates in kitchens, “‘Oh, they just chuck stuff in the fire, they just eat to sustain life, basically they just eat because they have to eat.’ Yet that conversation I had with that guy, was not somebody who ate just to survive, that was somebody who ate for pleasure, that was somebody who understood cooking, that was somebody who understood flavour, that was somebody who understood that actions have an impact on flavour. It completely went against what I was being told by everybody. And that’s when I thought to myself, as a chef, the only way to go about this is to start visiting communities. So that’s what I did. I just drove into communities.”

This wasn’t always a successful approach, but, over time, Zonfrillo has established relationships with a number of communities all over Australia, and has been working alongside the Nyul Nyul people in the Kimberleys for over 8 years. (You can check out Bruno Dan discussing the food of the Kimberleys in a video on Orana’s website.) “When you go out and you start to understand a culture and the community, particularly, because all of the communities are very different, they have very different dynamics – you need to go out there and you need to spend time with them, and I love to do that. It’s like going back to school. You just go out there and zip it; just shut up and learn. That’s it. Because half the stuff that I get told when I’m out there, and half the stuff that I see, and their connection to the land through food, is absolutely phenomenal.”

Others have tried in the past to bring native ingredients to the mainstream but ultimately failed, “Unfortunately there wasn’t a huge amount of information given along with those ingredients in the marketplace, as in, where they came from, their traditional uses, recipes, seasons, you couldn’t get them fresh – as chefs, we want to see something when it’s fresh, we want to know where it came from – all of that information’s important.”

“If we can create over 400 species and throw them into garden centres, why isn’t it on a supermarket shelf? Some of this stuff … defies belief.” 

So how does Zonfrillo see home cooks using native ingredients and cooking styles? “Well there’s a lot of native ingredients which should be on supermarket shelves, unquestionably. For example, Geraldton wax.” Geraldton wax is a shrub endemic to Western Australia that is prized by local communities for imparting a lime-like citrus flavour – perfect for stuffing baked fish, for example.“There’s now over 400 species over here being used for various different reasons, predominantly for gardening. It’s a shrub that can tolerate all kinds of conditions including very harsh and dry conditions, and you can buy Geraldton wax in Bunnings, believe it or not! But that is a valuable food source for communities, in terms of flavour. It’s as easy to use as rosemary, thyme, anything like that. Now, that should be available as a bunch at the supermarket! And why isn’t it? If we can create over 400 species and throw them into garden centres, why isn’t it on a supermarket shelf? You know what I mean? Some of this stuff, for me – as a chef, and as a person – defies belief.”

Zonfrillo is working to introduce palates to native ingredients through his restaurants. “We’d have an average of maybe 40 different native ingredients on Orana’s menu at any one time, most of them fresh, wild-harvested from communities or our own foragers.” There are plenty of international diners at Orana, but Zonfrillo is particularly delighted to take Australians on that trip. “It’s fun, they come in and they eat and they say, ‘My god … I’ve tasted 20, 30 things that I’ve never even heard of, and I thought were absolutely delicious – but I’m Australian! And I’ve never heard of them before!’ So it’s a really positive journey for people to come and get stuck into it. I think it surprises a lot of people that these ingredients are so delicious.”

To expand on the work they’re doing with the restaurants, Zonfrillo is launching The Orana Foundation this year. “What we do in Orana [the restaurant] … is work with Indigenous communities to wild-harvest and then preserve that knowledge and culture. The Orana Foundation, basically, is going to be a bigger version of that. So we’re able to help more communities on a bigger scale and actually bring some of these ingredients to the general market. Make them available as a wild-harvested product, while it’s fresh, which chefs love. But also then start to lobby a little bit to supermarkets to get some of these ingredients in volume into supermarkets as a fresh product.”

“Wild-harvesting fruit is very healing to the land, and you’re giving a community a chance to come together and do something which benefits them all.”

Wild-harvest is a key part of the plan. “For example, we work with the Nyul Nyul people up in the Kimberleys. This year, it’s looking like a good season for gubinge, the wild plum up there, they’re looking at harvesting 8 tonnes this season. That’s 8 tonnes of wild-harvest!” A central drop-off point allows for anyone in the community to pick, and be paid per kilo. The fruit is then shipped to restaurants in Adelaide and Melbourne. “There’s so much good in that, a lot of money goes into that community to help everyday life, to help them fight to stay on the land. Wild-harvesting fruit is very healing to the land, and you’re giving a community a chance to come together and do something which benefits them all. And 8 tonnes of hand-picked wild-harvest fruit, to me, that’s a triumph.

“But you can do that in loads of different communities, in loads of different ways – there’s plums up there, it can be bush tomatoes somewhere else – each area of Australia, in terms of region, is fantastic for producing different kinds of food. So that’s the plan for the foundation. The foundation is all about giving back, at the end of the day. It’s a not-for-profit entity which aims to join all the dots that we’ve been doing in our little restaurant in Adelaide at great expense so far. So, it’ll be nice to see it blossom into something bigger and actually be able to attack some bigger projects and make a bigger difference than we already are.”

Native ingredients on supermarket shelves would inevitably require more industrialised farming processes. Zonfrillo believes that Australian farmers should be embracing native crops. “It’s another arm of the foundation that needs to work with Australian farmers. ‘Hey, listen I know you’ve got two hectares of leeks, that’s fantastic, your leeks are amazing – change 20 per cent of your crop to karkalla [pigface] which can survive a drought, can survive heatwaves, you don’t need to irrigate it, it’ll just grow on it’s own, rampantly’ … we just have to work together to work out how to crop it, you know, how to harvest it cost effectively. If you can imagine, 20 per cent of your land you don’t need to irrigate any more, you’ve got a product you can sell for a premium, and it’s weatherproof in terms of the climate here – what is there to lose?”

“If you can imagine, 20 per cent of your land you don’t need to irrigate any more, you’ve got a product you can sell for a premium … what is there to lose?”

So, what would Jock Zonfrillo like to see Australians cooking this Australia Day? He’s initially stumped, “Wow, good question! Well, if you turn on the television I’m sure Sam Kekovich will be telling you to cook lamb!” He concedes that, as lamb is in season, it actually makes a lot of sense to cook it on Australia Day. He cites one of the dishes they have on the menu at Orana at the moment as something that could be just right: a roasted lamb rack accompanied by very thinly sliced choko (“which is available in most people’s back yards”) tossed with a dressing made from bush tomatoes, quandong and dorrigo pepper. “So there’s an example of something that’s classically thought of as Australian, together with some everyday ingredients that are currently in season, that are very Australian.”

Original Article: Cooked.

The Scotsman Leading Australia’s Food Revolution

Way down in sleepy Adelaide, it’s taken an expat Scotsman to bring Australia back to its culinary roots—and in so doing, create the world’s next great food destination.

When the blossoms of the bat’s wing coral tree begin to fall, Aboriginal women know it’s time to dig through the mangrove mud for fresh crabs. And when the milky oyster flower blooms, it is nature’s signal that the shoreline beds are lined with fat shellfish. The indigenous people of Australia view themselves not as rulers of the environment but as one with it. Seasons are measured not with calendars but by the changing of the winds, the blooming of plants, and the seeding of grasses. The women’s encyclopedic knowledge of plants and animals has been passed from generation to generation, and before colonization in the eighteenth century, they didn’t just survive on the land, they thrived there.

But today, sadly, that knowledge remains untapped by most Australians. Sad because its literal fruits can be downright startling. “I call it the spontaneous-facial-myalgia response,” says Jock Zonfrillo with a laugh, of the sometimes horrified reactions he sees from Australians at his tiny 25-seat restaurant Orana, in Adelaide. “They screw their faces up—and that’s before they even taste anything.” He’s speaking purely of his food, but Zonfrillo might be referring to something else: a deeply held prejudice that may have more to do with culture than cuisine.

Zonfrillo, who moved to South Australia (by way of Sydney) from Scotland in 2000, is trying to change all that. The menu at the year-old Orana (the name means welcome in an Aboriginal dialect) is a revelatory tribute to Australia’s wild and uncharted fecundity, from obscure plants and fruits (violet lilly pilly, finger lime) to fabled animals, including kangaroos, wallabies, and crocodiles. With Orana, Zonfrillo has joined the vanguard of Australian chefs whose respect for the land and curiosity about the country’s too-often-ignored history are not only helping to bridge the deep cultural divide between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians but are also beginning to answer the once unanswerable question: What, after all, is Australian cuisine?

Food on the continent often takes first-time visitors by surprise. They come in search of landscapes and wildlife and leave wistful about that perfect cup of coffee or that better-than-in-Beijing-or-Bologna restaurant meal. Multicultural, well traveled, and increasingly affluent, Australians have developed a cosmopolitan palate and are masters in the art of appropriation and reinvention. And yet something has long held back the native cuisine—namely, the perception that, despite the bounty of endemic flora and fauna, the food here has always been a copy of some other culture’s, some other country’s. It is that very lack of a definable Australian flavor profile which has prevented it from finding a permanent place on the world’s gastronomic map.Appropriately, it took the culinary world’s ultimate outsider turned insider, Noma founder René Redzepi, to sound the wake-up call. (Though the terrains of Denmark and Australia could scarcely be more different, the gastronomic challenges in the two countries are oddly similar.) In 2010, he stood onstage at the Sydney Opera House and admonished the local chefs assembled before him. “I come here and I don’t know what Australia tastes like,” he said. “You have some of the best chef

Appropriately, it took the culinary world’s ultimate outsider turned insider, Noma founder René Redzepi, to sound the wake-up call. (Though the terrains of Denmark and Australia could scarcely be more different, the gastronomic challenges in the two countries are oddly similar.) In 2010, he stood onstage at the Sydney Opera House and admonished the local chefs assembled before him. “I come here and I don’t know what Australia tastes like,” he said. “You have some of the best chef talent in the world, but why aren’t you using the ingredients all around you?”

Redzepi’s message hit home. Now, just four years later, menus in many of the country’s finest establishments not only integrate native ingredients but make them the stars of the show. In Sydney, chef Kylie Kwong serves up what she lightheartedly calls “Chinese bush tucker,” in which Peking duck is given a new piquancy courtesy of the tart native fruit quandong, and wallaby tail is braised in five-spice powder. At Melbourne’s Attica, Ben Shewry wraps King George whiting in paperbark from the tea tree, an Australian take on fish en papillote.

But of all those who heard Redzepi’s call to action, it is Zonfrillo who has arguably taken it most to heart. Like Noma—where Zonfrillo worked before moving to cook at Forty One in Sydney— Orana embraces a philosophy of cooking informed by nature and place. This came, in part, because of the 38-year-old chef’s other big revelation, one that led to a years-long (and ongoing) immersion in Aboriginal traditions and food. Before Orana even opened, Zonfrillo was traveling to native communities around the countryside, sometimes for months at a time, foraging through the bush, in backyards, and along roadsides for ever-more-unusual ingredients. “At first, some of the people didn’t want anything to do with me,” he remembers. “I really had to work on building trust. But once I did, they were incredibly generous.” In February, Zonfrillo plans to launch the Orana Foundation, an organization dedicated to preserving Aboriginal food knowledge by connecting native foragers and elders to restaurants and consumers. “We’re only a few years away from losing a generation of elders,” he says, “and to lose all of that knowledge would be a tragedy for Australia.”

For now, though, there is Zonfrillo’s own education, which is evidenced in every plate he serves at Orana. The multi-course dinner here is presented along with a number of small dishes—which the chef calls alkoopina, the Dieyerie tribe’s word for snacks—and which together create a sort of hymn to the region’s richness. South Australia is famed for its seafood, and so a meal might begin with a barely seared Spencer Gulf prawn dusted with dehydrated Davidson plum (a rain forest fruit) or with meaty Kangaroo Island scallops wrapped in lemongrass-like leaves of Geraldton wax—a flower more likely to be found in a prom corsage or a vase on an elderly woman’s mantel. Next might be a samphire (a wild coastal vegetable) risotto accompanied by smoked ’roo tail, or chewy ribbons of crocodile served in a puddle of fermented gray mangrove seeds and peppered with black ant salt.

But Zonfrillo tips his hat to contemporary flavors as well as indigenous ones. Fried wild salt-bush tastes uncannily like salt-and-vinegar potato chips, and shaved pumpkin roasted in beef fat recalls a classic Sunday roast. But it is while sampling the palate cleanser, a wild salad of native and invasive species, that many diners have the revelatory moment that Zonfrillo hopes to evoke. Astringent and fibrous yet delicately sweet, it’s both complex and straightforward. And it achieves the ultimate: It tastes like Australia.

If one part of Zonfrillo’s revolution involves his embrace of Aboriginal flavors, the other part involves his embrace of Adelaide itself. Although the city of 1.29 million people has a proud past—it was the first on the continent to be established by free citizens rather than convicts—it is today thought of as an also-ran, sleepy and provincial in comparison to sophisticated Sydney and Melbourne.

Yet the town, and the surrounding region, might also be considered the ur-home of Australia’s own so-called paddock-to-plate movement, a place which has always embraced a style of eating that was more about pleasure and taste than sustenance. It was here that, in the 1800s, the first Germans and Italians settled, bringing with them their love of food and wine. Today, Adelaide is arguably the country’s wine capital, and in every direction the suburbs yield quickly to vineyards dotted with rusty tin sheds and hemmed in by bush. It is an unmistakably South Australian landscape.

In the late nineteenth century, a terrible phylloxera wiped out most of the country’s old-world vines. But because South Australia is so isolated—850 miles west of Sydney; 460 miles northwest of Melbourne—its vines managed to survive. This means that the regions around Adelaide now have some of the oldest producing vines in the world. You can find robust Shiraz in the Barossa Valley and delicate rieslings in the Clare. McLaren Vale has Italian nebbiolo; the Adelaide Hills are home to exciting young biodynamic winemakers; and there’s a powerful cabernet sauvignon being produced in the terra rossa of Coonawarra. Each of the regions is within a couple hours of Adelaide, making the city for oenophile travelers what San Francisco is to Napa and Sonoma.

Like northern California, South Australia is the birthplace of a particular style of rustic yet refined cooking. Alice Waters has her antipodean equal in Maggie Beer, a 70-year-old bush matriarch and self-taught cook who was the first to bring real attention to food in the Barossa Valley. In 1978, Beer and her husband, Colin, opened Pheasant Farm, the restaurant responsible for changing the way Australians think about provenance and seasonality. She fused a European cooking style with a gutsy, generous Australian approach, one that is still emulated in the cafés and bistros of South Australia. Pheasant Farm closed in the ’90s, but Beer continues to run a shop on the original site, where visitors come to buy pâté, verjuice, and burnt-caramel and fig ice cream for the road.

And while the land here is rich with plantings and farms, it is also thrillingly wild. Just off the coast of South Australia is one of the country’s most beautiful anomalies, Kangaroo Island. Often referred to as Australia’s Galápagos for its varied and unique animal life, the island has a dramatic coastline populated by seals and birdlife; farmland with more kangaroos than sheep; and roads populated by echidnas gingerly attempting to avoid encounters with four-wheel-drive cars. But it is the less visible life that really intrigues. The creeks teem with freshwater marron, the lobster’s sweet Australian cousin, and the sea with fields of scallops and abalone. The island is also home to the world’s best-preserved bee sanctuary. Immigrants from Italy brought their Ligurian bees to Kangaroo Island a century ago, and now that the bee is extinct in Italy, this island is the only place it still exists. The honey it produces from native wildflowers is prized globally for its distinct flavor and delicacy.

“You can find incredible produce here,” says Zonfrillo. But more important than that, perhaps, is that in South Australia, one feels the collision of old Australia—a culture dating back 40,000 years—and new, and, shimmering on the horizon, something else completely: a cuisine that, by combining both, creates something altogether original. It is nothing less than the story of Australia itself. “Just as indigenous art beautifully depicts our landscape and brings Australians together,” says Maggie Beer, “so too can food.” A country that revels in reinvention deserves nothing less.

Original Article: CN Traveler