In 2017 Adelaide chef and restaurateur Jock Zonfrillo got some good news. The South Australian Government decided to fund his not-for-profit Orana Foundation to the tune of $1.25 million, marking a decisive moment for the Scottish born chef who has been a passionate advocate for Indigenous food culture since he arrived in Australia.
Zonfrillo is best known for his widely praised high end restaurant Orana, which melds Indigenous ingredients and cooking methods with high end dining in a way that has won over both diners and critics. Up until the government decided to chip in, the Orana Foundation, which fosters the research, cultivation and production of native foods, was supported entirely by the restaurant.
With the government backing, the Orana Foundation is aiming to create an open-source database to share information about native foods, as well as set up a research and development facility, to be known as the Australian Food Culture Enterprise, which will analyse ingredients along the lines of nutritional information and traditional cooking methods as well as looking at how they might be used in contemporary cooking. To assist in this mammoth task the Foundation has partnered with the University of Adelaide, South Australian Museum and Adelaide Botanic Gardens.
“It’s a really complex situation here in Australia,” Zonfrillo says. “If you break it all down into bite sized chunks you are looking at a culture that has been baking bread 40,000 years before the pyramids were built. That’s extraordinary. That’s something not just worth exploring, but also preserving, nurturing and investigating.”
Zonfrillo is aiming to catalogue 1000 ingredients over the next 12 months, with the restaurant already donating its 500-odd data base of ingredients. Beyond that he is also putting serious work into turning some of these ingredients, such as Geraldton wax, into viable products in the retail space and in the process establishing new commercial business opportunities in Aboriginal communities. As he says, it is about restoring leadership and business acumen skills with on-the-job business training.
“We have spent a lot of time looking at projects that weren’t successful as we certainly don’t want to make the same mistakes,” he says. “But we are coming at it from a different perspective, one of food and culture. There are so many aspects to the foundation that make an ingredient scalable and it’s not just the ingredient itself, it comes down to relationships, respect and knowledge sharing.”