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Jock Zonfrillo, a celebrity Scottish chef, has not only made Australia his home, but has focused his efforts on championing indigenous Australian cuisine. His culinary journey began when he was 13 years old as he worked part-time washing dishes in a restaurant. One day one of the lead chefs called in sick, and he decided to take over the kitchen, resulting in him taking his first steps to becoming a professional chef.
Zonfrillo had a complicated upbringing, teetering between a drug addiction, while struggling with depression, and immense loneliness. Desperate, he jumped on a train and left his native Scotland to look for work in London, England. Despite experiencing so much adversity at such a young age, he was able to get his first job as a chef at the The Restaurant Marco Pierre White (Also, known as The Restaurant) in Hyde Park hotel, in downtown London. The restaurant’s namesake, Chef Marco Pierre White, believed in him, took him under his wing and changed his life forever.
After working at “The Restaurant,” Jock, worked at Restaurant 41 in Sydney, Australia, for one year and then transitioned to becoming the stove manager at the imaginative London restaurant known as The Pharmacy, by the famous artist Damien Hirst, which received high praise from the press for its creative and avant-garde cuisine.
An Australian Adventure
In the early 2000s, Zonfrillo returned to Australia, this time as chef de cuisine at Restaurant 41, where he hopelessly fell in love with traditional Australian cuisine. He currently resides in the Adelaide, Australia, and is now the chef and owner of Orana restaurant, which means “Welcome,” within aboriginal communities in Australia. Located in the city center, the restaurant offers an interesting and innovative gastronomic menu based on traditional and ancestral Australian food.
Orana’s menus include more than 50 aboriginal ingredients such as intense citrus-flavored green ants, kohlrabi (Australian kohlrabi), kangaroo tendons, and more than 20,000 native edible plants.
Preserving Aboriginal Australian Culture
The fundamental idea of Zonfrillo’s restaurant is to preserve the culinary traditions of Australian Aboriginal cuisine, while introducing new flavors to customers that are unfamiliar with these flavors or products.
Customers received the concept so well that, critics, selected Orana, as Australia’s best restaurant in The Good Food Guide’s restaurant list, last year, and was also selected as one of the worlds best restaurants by the San Pellegrino list of the 50 best restaurants in the world.
Zonfrillo credit’s his success to his team, especially to his native Australian employees, which include: two plant seekers, several cooks, assistants and meat and fish suppliers.
The restaurant has done so well that Zonfrillo decided to create, “The Orana Foundation,” a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the preservation of indigenous food native to Australia. This foundation has created, in collaboration with the University of Adelaide, a database of more than 15,000 foods used by local indigenous people.
Basque Culinary World Prize
His dedication to preserving indigenous culture, led Zonfrillo to wining the Basque Culinary World Prize, in 2018. This award is only given to chefs that seek to transform society through gastronomy.
As part of the reward he won 10,000 euros, which he invested in three food preservation projects: the breeding of a very tasty native shrimp, the production of honey from a type of bee that is about to be extinct and, finally, the creation of a more sustainable food collection and packaging system.
Funds from his collaborations with Australian television shows such as Nomad Chef, Chef Exchange and Master Chef are also used, in part, to fund different foundation projects.
His next objective is to develop an indigenous food distribution company, in collaboration with Brazilian Chef Alex Atala, Peruvian Chef Virgilio Martínez and Chilean Chef Rodolfo Guzmán. ■