Chewin’ the fat
‘Kaya yarn noonda wardandi bibluman, noongar boodja nitcha, noongar boodja nookin ningy’ (Hello and welcome to Wardandi noongar traditional lands. The Southwest Aboriginal people, forest people by the sea).
And so it started... the Gourmet Escape weekend in Margaret River, WA and, as these events always are, it was an opportunity to catch up with old friends, as well as a time to meet new ones from around the world who are just as passionate and dedicated about food as some of us Aussies.
Sadly the weekend started with the sad news that two of Heston Blumenthal’s boys – Jorge and Magnus – tragically lost their lives in a car accident in Hong Kong. Most of the chefs at the event either knew of them or had worked alongside them at some point, which left us all with a heavy heart. We felt for the families of those two young men but we also all felt for their other family, those at the Fat Duck and Dinner by Heston.
There is an unsaid law for us chefs – in kitchens and restaurants we form the strongest of bonds with our fellow colleagues particularly at that level. We don’t simply clock in first thing in the morning and clock out eight hours later. We are all in it together, which means an 80-plus hour week, obviously that means for us we see our brethren far more than our family (wives included). Is it any wonder then we mourn their loss just as much as if we had lost a brother?
That aside, the festival was a tremendous success with thousands through the doors to see an impressive line-up of world renowned chefs such as Rene Redzepi (Noma, Copenhagen), Alex Atala (D.O.M. in San Paulo), David Change (Momofuku New York, Sydney and Toronto) Sat Bains (Restaurant Sat Bains, UK), André Chiang (Restaurant André Singapore) as well as an excellent line-up of respected Australian chefs, for the ultimate in culinary adventures.
One of the events I hosted was a tour through Ngilgi caves with a Wardandi man, Joshua, after which we introduced some of the world’s best chefs to some ingredients eaten and used by the traditional owners of that land that Josh and I gathered in the days leading up to the event: Herbs, plants, tubers, roots, trees, grubs, fruit, meat and fish.
For some, including many Australians in the gathering, it was the first time they had seen these ingredients (let alone cook or prepare a dish with them). There were 25 of us who shared that experience, a time of connecting with the Aboriginal people of that land but also each other. All involved spoke throughout the weekend of that experience as being the highlight of their trip and that it had made them think about food and nature in a completely new and different way.
For me, it was a moment of pride, as it was the first time I had seen a food festival putting tradition and true Australian culture at the heart of its event.
My menus have most recently included water lilies, gubinge (a superfood with 100 times more vitamin C than oranges), parrot peas, bush ginger, bush lemongrass, green ants, honey ants, bush honey, tree saps, jilunjin and the list goes on. Many herbs that we gather in nature and use in the food my team prepares also has significant, practical functional effects: emulsifiers, stabilisers and even anti-oxidants. Some contain compounds, which are tonic, relaxing and restorative….
Australian Aboriginal people and their communities inspire me. I am constantly learning from their culture, traditions and their food ideologies. These people are incredibly passionate and are clever hunters and gatherers.
For me, it is very important that the food we prepare uses Australia’s native ingredients with a new, fresh perspective. We try to give the customer a renewed picture of food and culture, after all what we have here in Australia really is truly unique.
Jock Zonfrillo is the Head Chef of Magill Estate