Two outstanding restaurants in Australia have been given awards in this year’s 2019 Gourmet Traveller food awards. Both restaurants are important because they are owned by chef/restaurateurs who are committed to promoting the indigenous people and produce of Australia.
Attica, owned and run by chef Ben Shewry, was named Australia’s best restaurant. Orana, who won this top prize in 2017, was awarded the inaugural sustainability and innovation prize this year. Chef and owner of Orana is Jock Zonfrillo.
Both of these men were born outside of Australia, Shewry is from New Zealand and Zofrillo from Scotland, and both have developed a deep appreciation for the cultures, history, ingredients, and dishes of the original people of Australia. Steph Harmon, writing about the awards, notes that Ben Shewry says,
“There’s all this culture connected to these ingredients, and we want to pay that forward; we feel like that’s the baseline moral obligation for someone working with indigenous ingredients in Australia…Working with those ingredients comes with a responsibility, and you can’t just mess with that. Otherwise it’s just colonisation continuing…I fear that we see a lot of tokenism in this space. People don’t want to commit to getting to know the culture of the ingredients – the stories, the people connected to them, the language, the culinary uses of them.”
Harmon says, “Respect for native ingredients and Indigenous culture is also at the heart of Adelaide’s Orana: a 10-table restaurant on Rundle Street which – through its non-profit Orana foundation – is dedicated to preserving and promoting indigenous ingredients”.
Mind you, neither provide a cheap eat. Attica will cost $295 per person and Orana pretty much the same. Also because they cook with only seasonal ingredients then there is no menu and you don’t necessarily know what you will be eating, although Orana does cater with a very special menu for vegetarians, while Attica does not. However, what you get is outstanding in every way. Both men are committed foragers, indeed we met and chatted to the resident full-time forager at Orana when we ate there and learnt about beach side foraging as well as visits made inland to collect sugar lerps and green ants. Indigenous ingredients are in every dish served – some familiar such as wattle seed and lemon myrtle, some heard of but not eaten such as the amazing, exploding-in-flavour finger lime, and some entirely new, unheard of and untasted such as munthary (a native cranberry) or bush tomatoes (a bit like tamarillos but tiny).
Both men have spent time with Indigenous communities. Zonfrillo describes the Orana Foundation as his raison d’être: a non-profit venture that works with Indigenous communities to preserve and promote Indigenous food and culture and share skills training and employment opportunities.
“I certainly didn’t open Orana to become restaurant of the year or whatever,” he said. “It was more about starting the foundation. We couldn’t start the foundation until we could actually display it – here’s what it looks like, here’s what it tastes like, here are the positive changes we can make through it.”
Shewry’s menu celebrates native Australian produce including crocodile, emu, wattle, desert lime, black ants and bunya bunya nuts. Shewry regularly goes on research trips up country, and the restaurant hosts programs for Indigenous kids. The chef spoke about the Dark Emu author, Bruce Pascoe, and the Budawang teacher and chef Noel Butler, who both invited him on to traditional land to learn about Indigenous food. Shewry says,
“It made me feel microscopic – like a speck on the landscape,” he said. “There’s all this culture connected to these ingredients, and we want to pay that forward; we feel like that’s the baseline moral obligation for someone working with indigenous ingredients in Australia”.
“If you haven’t made that commitment yet, don’t be scared,” he continued from the podium. “Embrace it. Learn slowly, and be prepared to listen.”
Thanks to Steph Harmon and to the Guardian International for the materials used in this post:
- ‘We see a lot of tokenism:’ Attica’s Ben Shewry urges chefs to embrace Indigenous Australia, by Steph Harmon, The Guardian International Edition, Thursday 22 August 2019.
- Gourmet Traveller names Adelaide’s Orana Best restarant of the year, by Steph Harmon, The Guardian International Edition, Wednesday 23 August 2017.
Just in: Congratulations to Mr. Bannock who, with his North Vancouver Indigenous Food Truck, has won, in the 2019 Indigenous Business Awards, Young Entrepreneur of the year for Outstanding Business Achievement.