MasterChef Australia judge, Jock Zonfrillo, may have recently developed hearthrob status among Aussies for his dapper outfits and rugged looks, but the chef and founder of Adelaide’s avant-garde restaurant, Orana, is behind a much bigger conversation. He talks to us about his passion for promoting indigenous ingredients and his love for what he believes should be your regular pantry staples — the somewhat elusive lemon myrtle and two of its close family members.
'Food can help bridge the gap in knowledge'
Given Zonfrillo's Scottish-Italian heritage, he might seem like an odd choice for championing native foods. But Zonfrillo has been living in Australia since the '90s and has for years been driving the conversation around indigenous ingredients. This is even before he started Orana back in 2013, the restaurant built around raising the profile of native foods. It's the success of his restaurant that paved the way for Orana Foundation to open in 2016 — a not-for-profit launched to protect indigenous food culture.
"I think that I've been trained in such a way where I always look around me and try and cook with a sense of place. It doesn't matter where I am in the world, if we're eating or cooking a dinner, I try and use ingredients from that culture," Zonfrillo told Lifehacker Australia over the phone.
"And coming to Australia, I found it really odd that there wasn't any sort of real use of indigenous ingredients in Australia's food. That's what I was trying to uncover and that grew into a much bigger conversation around understanding and appreciating or acknowledging indigenous culture."
For him, bridging the gap in knowledge was only going to be possible through food as it's a medium that can speak to everyone — it can cross borders and cultures.
But Zonfrillo pointed out that native ingredients should also be appreciated for their adaptability. It's hard to grow fruits and vegetables when weather conditions are brutal but many of the native ingredients grow under extreme conditions. Given the recent, and devastating, bushfire season in Australia, these native plants are the ones that have grown back quickly as previous bushfires have helped them develop resistance.
Zanfrillo highlights easy-to-access indigenous ingredients to add to your pantry
If you've been watching MasterChef Australia, you should know a little bit about lemon myrtle already and why it's the queen of herbs. If you don't, this is going to be one discovery you'll be running to Bunnings or your local nursery for.
Zonfrillo pointed out three myrtles — lemon, aniseed, and cinnamon — that are super versatile in nature and give your dishes the zing, bam, boom that good cooking requires. The indigenous shrubs can be found at Bunnings or nurseries around the country.
"Myrtle leaves are so diverse and potent in flavour, you shouldn't be scared of using them in your cooking," Zonfrillo explained, before diving into the unique qualities of each myrtle type.
This will essentially replace the bay leaves or kaffir lime leaves you have in your pantry. It gives the same flavour but it's super intense (in a good way) and it perfect to use when making cakes, brown butter or stuffing for a chicken.
It's similar to star anise but a more calmed down version of it. It's got sweetness and a very strong flavour that's again beautiful inside chickens and sauces and likewise in desserts.
As the name suggests, it tastes and smells exactly like cinnamon and goes well in both sweet and savoury dishes for the way it enhances the flavour.
If you're looking to maximise the flavour in your food, these are going to do the trick.
Zonfrillo using all three myrtles in his barramundi sandwich recipe
The MasterChef judge will be on the Live from Aus cooking show on 16 May (but more on that later) where he's going to make a barramundi sandwich recipe which he tested the day to really nail it home. In fact, he said it was really 'incredible'.
"I was making a barramundi sandwich essentially and I got glutinous rice, toasted it off and added in those three myrtles along with Geraldton wax [another great indigenous plant]. The Geraldton wax has a similar aroma to lemongrass and though it may look like a scrawny rosemary, the flavour is absolutely unbelievable.
"When my mix cooled down, I blended it all up and used it to coat the fish before washing it with breadcrumbs. The flavour was just incredible and it was such an easy dish to make you wouldn't believe," he said.
Zonfrillo explained that once you start using these ingredients on the daily, it'll become another regular herb in your household.
Unfortunately, the difficulty with getting other just as great native ingredients is that they're simply not available in supermarkets. He said it's another conversation that needs to take place, keeping in mind that commercialisation can often lead to exploitation and those farming these indigenous ingredients should not be taken advantage of. By making strides and reaching middle ground, Zanfrillo believes people's shopping baskets will be very different.
"These ingredients need to be part of Australia's story and should be understood by everyone," Zonfrillo urged.
Go on an adventure this weekend with Tourism Australia's Live From Aus events
Join a curated live-streamed programme of back-to-back segments launching this weekend that will inspire you for life and travel after lockdown.
This weekend, you can watch and take part in the following live events via the Australia.com Facebook page:
- Bondi Brekkie Bowls with Bondi Harvest’s Guy Turland | Sat 16 May, 9pm
- Indigenous Ingredients with Jock Zonfrillo, LIVE from Melbourne | Sat 16 May, 11am
- Cheesemaking with Oakridge Winery chefs Jo Barrett and Matt Stone, LIVE from Yarra Valley | Sat 16 May, 1pm
- Wine For The People: Australia Uncorked, with Unico Zelo, LIVE from the Adelaide Hills | Sat 16 May, 5pm
- Mate Date Dinner Party with Matt Moran, LIVE from Sydney | Sat 16 May, 7pm
- Coffee Masterclass with ONA Coffee, LIVE from Canberra | Sun 17 May, 7am
- The Great Aussie Brunch with Three Blue Ducks, LIVE from Sydney, Byron Bay & Melbourne | Sun 17 May, 10am
- Sunday BBQ Lunch with Hayden Quinn, LIVE from Sydney | Sun 17 May, 1pm
- Wine & Art Pairing with Chester Osborn at the d’Arenberg Cub, LIVE from McLaren Vale| Sun 17 May, 3pm
For a list of the full schedule and watch the live streaming, visit the Australia.com Facebook page.
Since most of us are stuck at home indefinitely, it's time to level up those cooking skills and make MasterChef-worthy dishes that will win your house over. Follow this guide on investing in the most essential kitchen equipment, recipe books or getting the help of meal plan services to give you just the boost you need.