A Culinary Celebration of Ingredients From the Bush
The renewed fascination in Australian indigenous food ingredients may have been sparked in part by Noma owner and chef René Redzepi. When he temporarily transplanted his world-renowned restaurant in Sydney back in 2016, Redzepi began foraging deep into Australian bushland in search of native ingredients he used in his dishes.
Long after Redzepi left with his Noma, memories of his deliciously innovative use of creamy, unripe macadamia nuts, abalone, finger limes, sour muntries, citrusy green ants, clean crocodile fat and pepperberries in coming up with fascinating culinary creations continued to linger.
Chef Jock Zonfrillo, Restaurant Orana
But before all this, Scotland-born chef Jock Zonfrillo was already on a mission to rediscover and showcase indigenous food ingredients since he first came to Australia in 1999. Zonfrillo spent several years exploring far-flung communities and learning their farming and cultivation methods whilst collecting data on unique ethnic food ingredients.
The friendships Zonfrillo built along the way inspired him to want to establish a not-for-profit to help aboriginal communities. But to do this, he realised he needed to have a business to back up his plans. This led to the birth of Orana Restaurant in 2013. His restaurant menu extensively makes use of indigenous ingredients such as gubinge or Kakadu plum, bunya nuts and saltbush.
On top of this, Zonfrillo’s dream to help aboriginal communities has materialized in his Orana Foundation that plans to build a database of about 50,000 native Australian ingredients in collaboration with the University of Adelaide.
Chef Mark Olive, Black Olive Catering
Aside from indulging his passion for cooking using native ingredients, indigenous chef Mark Olive has been educating kids about Native Australian food ingredients for over three decades. He has also showcased indigenous cooking in his “The Outback Café” series.
Chef Clayton Donovan, Jaaning Tree
Celebrity indigenous Chef Clayton Donovan has also popularised the use of bush foods. His restaurant, the Jaaning Tree, named after a bush food ingredient source, is one of the vehicles he uses to showcase the versatility of aboriginal ingredients, as well as their interesting flavour profiles.
Chef Paul Cooper, Bishop Sessa
Wanting to introduce something different to his menu, non-indigenous chef Paul Cooper began using lemon myrtle and wild rosella fruit in his cooking several years ago. He has since expanded to using paperbark, finger limes and other native food ingredients in his restaurant Bishop Sessa in Surry Hills.
Chef Claire Van Vuuren, Newtown’s Bloodwood
Focusing on bush food ingredients around the Barangaroo Reserve in NSW, some of Chef Claire Van Vuuren’s notable bush menu offerings include pork and pickled muntries tacos, and barbecued bug with wattleseed and creme fraiche.
Chef Kylie Kwong
Celebrity Chef Kylie Kwong was first inspired by Redzepi’s promotion of the importance of using locally sourced, native ingredients. Kwong is now well-known for successfully fusing Chinese classics with Australian bush foods, as embodied in her stir-fried native greens with saltbush and warrigal greens instead of using the more familiar bok choy.
More chefs are integrating the use of Australian indigenous ingredients in their cooking. But beyond supporting and promoting local ethnic food ingredients, these chefs also emphasise the critical role of food in appreciating and understanding the culture of a people.