Scottish chef Jock Zonfrillo helping to safeguard Aboriginal culinary traditions with Indigenous food database

Scottish-born chef Jock Zonfrillo is helping to safeguard Aboriginal culinary traditions with the creation of one of the biggest Indigenous food databases in the world.

The chef behind the Adelaide-based Orana Restaurant has made it his mission to revolutionise Australian food culture through combining the preservation of Indigenous knowledge and practice with contemporary methods and innovation.

Fascinated by the relationship that Indigenous people have with the land and their rich heritage of traditional food culture, Jock Zonfrillo has visited dozens of remote communities, since moving to Australia in 2000, to understand the origins of native ingredients and their cultural significance something that has been excluded from the restaurants he’s worked in as well as the national food identity.

Acknowledging the roots of Indigenous knowledge in Mother Earth, Jock Zonfrillo came to understand that the Aboriginal way of life is sustainable living in its truest form. “This is real sustainability: it’s about making absolutely sure it will be there for the next generation. It’s them making sure they don’t f**k up the ecosystem — and we can sure all learn from that,” he said in an interview with the Financial Review.

With the philosophy of “giving back more than you receive”, in 2016 Zonfrillo launched the Orana Foundation, whose objectives range from supporting indigenous communities in the production and fair marketing of their products to the documentation of more than 10,000 native ingredients and the investigation of new uses.

The chef has documented native products and worked with them in innovative ways at Orana. Through alliances with universities and institutions including the University of Adelaide, the South Australian museum, and the Botanic Gardens of South Australia, he has ensured that information on these ingredients has been verified and recorded as part of a new database of indigenous ingredients.

To date, the database has profiled 2,000 ingredients for their nutritional properties, studied their toxicity and identified potential uses. The database will be open to the public in a few months, but some information will be accessible only to certain groups. Given that all of the information is owned by Indigenous people, the database is layered with intellectual property capabilities,

The information from the database is currently being used to assess sites for up to 200 plant types to be grown commercially. Chefs from Jock Zonfrillo’s Orana restaurant are working with researchers at the University of Adelaide to determine the optimal preparation and cooking requirements of 50 native species.

Eventually the database will feature 10,000-15,000 edible native ingredients, enabling the commercial production of ingredients and creating new food-based enterprises for indigenous communities.

The preservation of the Aboriginal food heritage via this database will also serve as a record for future indigenous communities.

The Orana Foundation

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at Rosamedea.com

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