Masterchef has been credited with getting Aussies to fall in love with cooking. However, judge Jock Zonfrillo has a different goal: he wants Aussies to fall in love with native ingredients.
Last week, Masterchef saw its contestants travel to the Northern Territory where they worked with Indigenous elders and native ingredients. The episode was in partnership with Tourism Australia and Tourism Northern Territory and served as a lead in to NAIDOC week.
This episode saw contestants learn to cook with traditional ingredients that Indigenous people have been using for thousands of years.
It would be hard to imagine that Zonfrillo, an advocate for native ingredients, was not a driving force behind the show going bush.
Zonfrillo told B&T: “After they, (contestants), went to the red centre, it changed them all. It changed the way they thought about food in Australia.”
Zonfrillo can relate to being changed by traditional Australian food.
The chef arrived in Australia in the 90s, “My expectation was that this country had the oldest surviving culture there, coming to Australia was like, what’s going on here with the salt and pepper calamari and the bad Italian food? I couldn’t see the First Nation flavour of Australia.”
Zonfrillo wanted to learn more so he found himself venturing into Indigenous communities to learn about the Australian Indigenous food culture. “When I started going out into communities in the early 2000s and engaging with Indigenous people, and how they are connected to the land, it was much more of an interesting story than a lot of cuisines around the world.”
Zonfrillo spent time with Indigenous elders and learned more about their culture’s relationship with food, “I shut up and I learned.”
From there, Zonfrillo was inspired to open up his now-famous restaurant, Orano, that uses traditional native ingredients. First, he made sure to get approval from the Indigenous elders that had taught him.
Zonfrillo explained, “In my mind, if I made Orana the best restaurant in Australia, people would recognise that Indigenous ingredients are amazing, and therefore spark some kind of conversation around the acknowledgment of Indigenous people.”
“I know I’m not the only person using Indigenous ingredients, I wasn’t the first person, I won’t be the last. It isn’t about that though, it was about getting the acknowledgments for the restaurant to kick start conversations about Indigenous people.”
While Zonfrillo is passionate about bringing Indigenous ingredients into mainstream Australian cooking, he is also realistic, “Nobody is saying, we should all start cooking Indigenous food, we can definitely walk together and share each other’s foods and experiences.”
“It’s a selection of ingredients that grow here naturally, let’s use them.”
Zonfrillo also believes that Australians just need to understand how easy the ingredients are to use, “Lemon Myrtle, if you get a couple of leaves and some hot water, you’ve got an absolutely cracking tea.”
It was Zonfrillo’s love of native food that got Zonfrillo onboard as a MasterChef Judge. Zonfrillo originally wasn’t interested in joining the cooking show full time. However, he changed his mind after speaking with one of his business partners, Mark Carnegie.
“He said, you are the guy that’s spent a couple of decades trying to get acknowledgement for Indigenous people and their culture through food, and you have an opportunity to talk about that and bring acknowledgement without standing on a soapbox, to millions of people.”
Carnegie may have been right, the second Northern Territory Masterchef episode received just under a million views.
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