Jock Zonfrillo’s weekend of food
Australia’s hottest chef lines up Adelaide’s best flavour destinations, and a few visual gems as well, for 48 hours of heaven on your next weekend visit
Asking Jock Zonfrillo to reveal his favourite places to pick up a knife and fork in and around Adelaide is like opening a floodgate – his nominations pour in like a king tide, propelled by a passion for his adopted home town.
The chef and owner of Orana – recently named Gourmet Traveller’s Australian restaurant of the year – and Tasting Australia creative curator says there’s always something interesting to see, as long as you’re not expecting it to be churches.
“Adelaide’s so small, if you came for a week you wouldn’t be able to rattle through all the things I’ve (suggested). When friends and family come from overseas, the longer they stay the more in love they fall with Adelaide,” says Zonfrillo.
“(Chef and Zonfrillo mentor) Marco Pierre White is a classic example. He said the more he stayed here, the more in love he became with this city but he wasn’t really sure about it before he arrived. And that’s what we see … you just have these experiences one after the other that just blow you away.
“It’s because of the size of Adelaide and the type of people that live there. It’s a very creative place. Those creative people are so hospitable and so giving of their time because that’s what hospitality is about.”
Zonfrillo, born in Scotland to Scottish and Italian parents, came to Australia first in the 1990s and to make it home in 2010, opening his Adelaide base in 2013, where Orana earns award after award and a recent fillip for Zonfrillo, named The Hottest Chef of 2017 by The Australian.
Since arriving, it has been his pleasure to explore all the region has to offer, settling his top choices into three categories.
First are the places, most of which – unsurprisingly – are linked to good food and wine. He suggests travellers make tracks for the Fleurieu Peninsula, Kangaroo Island or any part of the coast from Adelaide to McLaren Vale in the south.
“I’ve got friends from interstate who stayed here – they booked on a website that said they could bring their dog. They drove the dog over from Melbourne and (found) they were walking it across some of the most isolated, beautiful, staggeringly gorgeous beaches in the world. And they were just the happiest people you’ve ever seen because they just can’t do that at home,” he says.
To the list he adds the beauty of all those wine regions within an hour’s drive of the CBD: “There’s McLaren Vale, the Barossa, Adelaide Hills. I think visually … being in some of those vineyards is quite special.”
And there’s plenty going on in town, he adds. “It’s a really nice city to hang around in.” His second category is kept aside for his second favourite thing in life: wine and the people who make it. “The ability to interact with winemakers here is extraordinary and it’s something you don’t get in other states,” he says. “Whether that’s in some of the larger places like Henschke (in the Barossa), all the way through to the natural winemakers in the Adelaide Hills. Those guys are so happy to sit down and talk with you and shoot the breeze around what they’re doing and how they work.
“It’s an incredibly special experience.
Keeping the best for last, Zonfrillo says some of the food experiences going on in Adelaide are as outstanding as any in the world. “You can have an experience while you’re touring wineries, for example, in the Adelaide Hills. You can stop in at the Summertown Aristologist or Lost in a Forest at Uraidla and have an amazing casual experience with friends,” he says.
“Or you can go right through to the super high end of the market like Orana, where we have a tasting menu and a real, genuine Australian experience.”
Zonfrillo says there are many restaurants in the popular mid-range market, including his new Bistro Blackwood, that offer unique experiences.
“The Blackwood is a quintessential Australian bistro; easy access with much cheaper produce. Likewise, there’s Africola around the corner from us. You’ve got amazing wine experiences like East End Cellars, Mother Vine where you can go and have a massive glass of wine before you come to dinner or enjoy a glass of wine after dinner,” he says. “There are so many amazing small bars in Adelaide. They’re all serving variations of snacks along the way – it’s really cool.”
Great Italian food abounds in Adelaide, capped by Zonfrillo’s top pick, Osteria Oggi. “Oggi’s is a really cool place to eat in, with great fresh pasta made on site,” he says.
Authentic food heaven awaits in the city and suburbs beyond – Afghan, Vietnamese, Thai and Japanese. “You can go and have some real cultural meals, like Parwana. I love eating there. There’s a whole family.
They’ve got one restaurant at Henley Beach and their daughter runs the one in Ebenezer Place (city). It’s a family business, really fantastic,” he says.
“You’ve got the Singh family that run Jasmin (in Hindmarsh Square, where Marco Pierre White had ‘without question most probably the best Indian meal in my life’).
“Their food is fantastic. It’s hard not fall in love with a family who still has this matriarchal thing going on around the restaurant – the grandmother comes in and tries all the recipes once a month to make sure they’re the way they should be. That kind of level of interaction, I love that, and the result is some of the most amazing Indian food you’ll eat.
“You’ve also got the family that runs Lucia’s (Pizza and Spaghetti Bar, in the Central Market). You go there and you have a super basic pasta, super traditional and it’s awesome. And you have a great coffee with a chocolate on the side and I’m one of the happiest people in the world.
“Shopping in the Adelaide Central Markets, that’s another attraction itself. When I’m shopping, I’ll go into Lucia’s and have a panini. It’s not unusual for me to go and eat up all the pasta and then have a panini takeaway while I’m walking around the markets.
“These family-owned, family-run kitchens, with these generations of kids working in them, I love that stuff.”
And that’s the theme for all Zonfrillo’s favourite haunts – the unique people who inhabit each delightful place and provide what he describes as “money-can’t-buy” experiences.
“You can have one-on-one experiences that you’ll never forget. I’m lucky enough to feel that every day,” he says. “We’re really spoiled for choice. I think a lot of Adelaideans really overlook how fantastic the choice is that we have across such a small space. There’s so much cool stuff going on here.”
Maestro of temptation
When Jock Zonfrillo talks about offering up authentic indigenous flavours in his restaurant, Orana, he’s done the research – and he didn’t do it at the local library.
“Wherever I am in the world, I try to be as connected as possible to the culture where I am,” he says. “The first time when I came out to Australia in the mid ’90s, I struggled with the fact I couldn’t see the first Australian culture in the restaurants.
“That stuck with me after I left and I continued to think about it and question it. When I came back in 2010, I was very much on the journey of what that would look like and what it’d taste like, and how I could interact with it in a way that is more authentic and has more integrity than a show-pony version of that.”
His mission led him to many parts of remote Australia and the Aboriginal communities there. Locals generously shared their knowledge, prompting Zonfrillo to create ongoing partnerships with those contributors.
His Orana Foundation aims to promote the relationship and deepen people’s understanding of Australia’s first culture.
“The true heart and soul of a person’s culture revolves around food. It just struck me that there was an opportunity to help preserve the knowledge and culture of these people. And at the same time doing something so that people look at it with so much respect and regard that it changes the sense of interaction with anyone coming in,” he says.
The business partnerships operate with the help of an Orana consultancy company, which works with both international and large domestic food companies to have them “use native ingredients in a more authentic way”.
Sourcing the products means working within indigenous communities to provide and supply the goods. “Working backwards from large companies allows us to work with the communities in the safe knowledge that 100 per cent of what is grown and harvested is going to be purchased by the people we’re working with,” Zonfrillo says.
“It’s being done in collaboration with the foundation, which is not-for-profit. It’s not about making anyone rich, it’s about giving an opportunity to communities they otherwise wouldn’t have, while acknowledging the value of their culture.”
WORDS – Jennifer Hullick
PHOTOGRAPHY (main picture) – Mike Burton
FOOD & DRINK FESTIVAL