A NEW NA­TIVE

Aus­tralia’s indige­nous in­gre­di­ents be­long on shelves and in our ev­ery­day lives, says Orana chef JOCK ZON­FRILLO. How to get there?

Gourmet Traveller (Australia) - - News -

Indige­nous in­gre­di­ents be­long on su­per­mar­ket shelves and in our ev­ery­day lives, writes Jock Zon­frillo.

There’s an Ital­ian side to my fam­ily and a Scot­tish side. I en­joy the sim­ple act of eat­ing boiled pota­toes and mince be­cause I un­der­stand the Scot­tish cul­ture. Like­wise, I un­der­stand the whole ruckus that is a fam­ily meal for Ital­ians. I un­der­stand why there’s spaghetti on the walls and why peo­ple are al­ways yelling. This has al­ways been the miss­ing link for me in Aus­tralia. If you don’t un­der­stand the cul­ture of Aus­tralian peo­ple, and the tra­di­tional own­ers of this land, how can you be­gin to un­der­stand the food? And what it might be­come?

The first time I vis­ited Aus­tralia was for a year in 1994. At the time, I had been cook­ing in dark and rainy Lon­don, work­ing the three-star grind, 20 hours a day. I’d seen ad­ver­tise­ments for Aus­tralia and it looked amaz­ing. The beaches and blue sky – it seemed like a hol­i­day every day. I came out for 12 months and worked at Forty One in Syd­ney. Wher­ever I’d worked be­fore – in­clud­ing dur­ing my ap­pren­tice­ship – we used the food around us. Back in Scot­land when I was an ap­pren­tice at Turn­berry ho­tel, my chef de par­tie taught me how to stalk deer in the for­est, for ex­am­ple. He showed me

which mush­rooms, mosses and weeds you could eat and we’d con­struct a dish with what we’d col­lected. My ex­pec­ta­tion was that Aus­tralia wouldn’t be any dif­fer­ent. There’s a cul­ture here that’s 60,000 years old and, in my mind at least, Aus­tralians were élite for­agers.

That first year in Syd­ney I never met an Abo­rig­i­nal man or woman. When I went back to the UK, where I stayed for five years, I had a lot of time to think about that. I felt guilty about not hav­ing par­tic­i­pated in the Indige­nous cul­ture at all. It may not have pre­sented it­self to me, but I also didn’t get off my arse and go out and find it.

Eigh­teen years ago, in Jan­uary 2000, I im­mi­grated to Aus­tralia. It was my sec­ond chance. I went look­ing for na­tive in­gre­di­ents straight away. I started get­ting my hands on wat­tle­seed and riberries and ex­per­i­ment­ing with them on the menu at Forty One. Then we got a re­view that ab­so­lutely spanked us for us­ing them.

The sen­ti­ment was that it was a hark back to the bush-tucker era, that it was ar­chaic and rub­bish; they dis­ap­peared from our menu just as quickly as they had ar­rived.

Fast-for­ward to the past few years and there’s been a huge boom for na­tive in­gre­di­ents. But let’s not ever call it a trend. A trend is some­thing that comes and goes, not some­thing that’s been around for thou­sands of years, and that’ll be around for thou­sands of years more.

It was years af­ter I ar­rived in Aus­tralia that I opened my restau­rant Orana in Ade­laide. I didn’t know what I was start­ing. I had no fuck­ing idea. But the more Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties I vis­ited, and the more Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple I spoke with, the more I re­alised how lit­tle

I knew about the cul­ture of the coun­try that I now called home.

The Orana Foun­da­tion is try­ing to change that. For ev­ery­one. To­gether with the Univer­sity of Ade­laide, the South Aus­tralian Mu­seum and the Ade­laide Botanic Gar­dens, we’re build­ing a data­base of the 10,000-odd edi­ble na­tive in­gre­di­ents here in Aus­tralia. The whole pur­pose of this re­source is to dig into the cul­tural in­for­ma­tion on each in­gre­di­ent: where does it come from? What are its tra­di­tional uses? How does it grow? It’s all very well for Jock the chef to say that you should eat Ger­ald­ton wax be­cause it tastes nice, or be­cause cul­tur­ally it’s been used for thou­sands of years, but we also need to dig deeper.

From there we want to be able to build an in­dus­try based on benev­o­lence. We want to ac­knowl­edge Indige­nous peo­ple and their cul­ture, and cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for com­mu­ni­ties that are Indige­nous led.

One of the is­sues that the na­tive in­gre­di­ents in­dus­try has had so far, gen­er­ally, is that peo­ple have tried to own the in­dus­try, or have been cloak-and-dag­ger in their deal­ings. A lot of early re­search

“Na­tive thyme be­ing in the su­per­mar­ket is great, but at the price it’s at it’s not go­ing to help any­one. It has to be as easy and af­ford­able to pick up as basil or pars­ley.”

on these plants also didn’t re­ally look be­yond whether or not they tasted im­me­di­ately de­li­cious. Nor did it take into ac­count the cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance the in­gre­di­ent may have had to the first Aus­tralians, or the abil­ity of these in­gre­di­ents to pro­vide a food source (in most cases) with­out ir­ri­ga­tion and other in­ten­sive farm­ing prac­tices.

Be­tween Bistro Black­wood and Orana each year we use 700 na­tive in­gre­di­ents. There are be­tween 40 and 60 on the menu at a time, de­pend­ing on the sea­son. In spring it’s a lot more be­cause we use a lot more blos­soms, so the num­ber creeps up by an ex­tra 15 or 20.

I don’t own any of this. It’s my in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Aus­tralian food and I en­cour­age ev­ery­one – at home, in restau­rants – to also in­ter­pret it in their own way. Even though I’m not from Aus­tralia, I’ve done a few things that have been eas­ily ac­cepted here: skew­er­ing damper on le­mon myrtle and cook­ing it on coals at the ta­ble; top­ping pipis with beach suc­cu­lents; serv­ing flat­head with eu­ca­lyp­tus. These are sim­ple things that peo­ple re­ally love and en­joy eat­ing, but why should it only ben­e­fit an élite few? I’d love to see main­stream man­u­fac­tur­ers us­ing na­tives to make soy sauce, sim­ple vine­gars and oils. Na­tive pep­pers, herbs and tu­bers are easy start­ing points for the home cook, and you can grow a lot of na­tives in your gar­den with rel­a­tive ease.

The Orana Foun­da­tion’s goal is to do what we’ve done at the restau­rant on a much big­ger scale. This month we’ll be start­ing field trips to gather in­gre­di­ents and meet with Indige­nous el­ders. In the first six months we’ll hit every state, and in 12 months we’ll have gath­ered in­for­ma­tion on a thou­sand species. We want to work out how to farm these in­gre­di­ents suc­cess­fully, in the right cli­mate, un­der the right con­di­tions and in vol­ume, in or­der to sup­ply a mar­ket.

As a chef I can look at the world of food and say, “these par­tic­u­lar na­tives are go­ing to re­late bet­ter to gas­tron­omy here and now, more than some­thing else.” We’ll be hit­ting that low-hang­ing fruit first. Things like More­ton Bay fig shoots and man­grove seeds, along with other fruits, seeds, and even a nat­u­ral form of su­gar, are at the top of our list. I un­der­stand that these in­gre­di­ents can be in­tim­i­dat­ing, but at some point rose­mary must have been in­tim­i­dat­ing, too. And ex­pen­sive. Na­tive thyme be­ing in the su­per­mar­ket is great, but at the price it’s at it’s not go­ing to help any­one. It has to be as easy and af­ford­able to pick up as it is a bunch of basil or pars­ley, oth­er­wise we won’t suc­ceed.

Once we hit a thou­sand en­tries in the data­base it will be­come an open re­source. This in­for­ma­tion has been shared with me and I plan to share it with as many peo­ple as I can. Does it make me ner­vous try­ing to com­mer­cialise some­thing that’s been around a lot longer than we have? No, be­cause I’m not com­mer­cial­is­ing it for my own ben­e­fit; I’m do­ing it for Indige­nous Aus­tralians. To get there, we need to keep telling a story of place and peo­ple. I can’t com­plete this in my life­time. But I’ll be able to pass this on as some­thing that will keep go­ing on, and giv­ing back, for­ever.

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