When Jock Zonfrillo was 17, he was fired. The restaurant he was working at in Chester, north-west England, had a Michelin star and a lot more promise than the hotel he’d been apprenticed to near his home town of Glasgow, which offered little more than “f—ing room service and chicken schnitzel”. In Chester he was pushing himself – a little too much, considering the executive chef was “either in the office or playing golf” and the two sous chefs were “always drunk”. The head chef “never turned up”.
One night, during a service that quickly – and wildly – spiralled out of control, Zonfrillo let rip. “Everything went wrong. Nobody senior was there, they’d left it all to us kids. None of the waiters were picking up. Dishes were piling up and up.” Suddenly, Zonfrillo was “screaming like a f—ing banshee, swearing … you know, all the bad words”. Everyone in the dining room heard it. The owner was summoned and, by way of apology, bought the entire restaurant champagne. After that, he pulled Zonfrillo aside and fired him. “You’ll never work in hospitality again,” he said.
Jock Zonfrillo had his second abrupt departure from a job when he was 36. He was in Australia by now, and the head chef at Penfolds Magill Estate Restaurant, on the outskirts of the Adelaide Hills. A lot had happened in the intervening years. He’d married – twice. Divorced twice. Had two daughters, one from each marriage. He’d moved from London, where he’d nursed a “fairly healthy heroin habit”, to Sydney, where he told customs officials he was going to work for Stephanie Alexander. They informed him, as he tells it, that he was “in the wrong f—ing city” and asked him what he was going to do. “Get on a bus,” he replied.
He’d worked at Forty One, the jewel in Alan Bond’s Chifley Tower, at the height of its fame a three-hatted degustation destination that introduced Sydney diners to exotic novelties such as soba noodles and caramelised duck. He’d imported Thermomixes. He never did end up working for Stephanie Alexander, whom he considered the godmother of Australian cooking. But he did learn about Australian food, including native ingredients such as finger limes and lemon myrtle.
When he arrived at Penfolds Magill Estate as head chef in 2011, he put native ingredients on the menu as much as possible. That same year, the restaurant was named South Australia’s best. But after 18 months of renovations that had brought Magill’s dining room up to the world-class level that Zonfrillo had already reached in the kitchen, the chef was out.
The official word from Penfolds was that Zonfrillo and the company had “parted ways” over creative differences. Zonfrillo was more interested in the food than the wine, the company told The Advertiser (perhaps as one might expect, from a chef). That was the official word. What really happened, according to Zonfrillo, was that Penfolds didn’t want native ingredients on the menu. It told him so, he says, using rather less polite terminology. For its part, Penfolds won’t directly comment on Zonfrillo’s exit.
Zonfrillo went on gardening leave and, under the terms of his severance package, took the name “Orana” with him. An indigenous word for “welcome”, it was the name he’d chosen for the newly renovated Magill Estate restaurant where he planned to use native ingredients, not just as accompaniments, but as the main fare. It had been his dream for years. Out of a job for the second time, his life was starting all over again.
Everyone who knows him will tell you that Jock Zonfrillo is “passionate” and “determined”. These are the two words I hear again and again about the man who is acclaimed as not just South Australia’s best chef, but Australia’s. (I also hear “curious”, “a real gentleman”, “trustworthy”, “fearless” and “a bit of an arsehole”.)
Restaurant Orana, a small space that sits above Bistro Blackwood (which Zonfrillo also owns) in Adelaide’s Rundle Street, serves primarily native, foraged ingredients. Dinner service includes damper with lamb-fat butter, crocodile bone broth and panna cotta made of buffalo milk and eucalyptus. In 2017, it was named Gourmet Traveller Restaurant of the Year. In 2018, it retained that prize and added another: Good Food “Food for Good” Restaurant of the Year. Last year, Zonfrillo was awarded the Basque Culinary Prize, worth €100,000 ($162,000) and voted on by a global group of hospitality peers, for his efforts in bridging the gap between Indigenous food culture and the rest of Australia.
Owning a restaurant is notoriously difficult. The overheads are high, staff turnover can be challenging and the hours, naturally, are gruelling. You have to be both passionate and determined, especially to run Australia’s best.
You also have to be a little bit mad to launch that restaurant for the sole purpose of starting a foundation to help make native foods as mainstream as, say, mangoes and prawns, all the while commercialising the raw ingredients and paying fair prices to the harvesters and foragers producing them. Which is exactly what Jock Zonfrillo is doing.
In what is almost certainly the most thorough approach ever to turning native foods into a billion-dollar industry, Zonfrillo’s Orana Foundation, which he founded in 2016, has compiled Australia’s first database of native foods. In just three years it has profiled 1500 ingredients for their nutritional properties, studied their toxicity and identified potential uses. The Australian government has undertaken similar work, but only got around to documenting 12 ingredients. The database will be open to the public in a few months, and is layered with intellectual property capabilities, because as Zonfrillo sees it, the information is owned by Indigenous people. Zonfrillo calls it his “legacy”. If he achieves nothing else in this life, this will be enough for him.
Or so he says: there is still much more under way. The information from the database is being used to assess sites for up to 200 plant types to be grown commercially. Chefs from his restaurant are working with researchers at the University of Adelaide to determine the optimal preparation and cooking requirements of 50 native species. And in May, using the Basque Culinary Prize money, the foundation began construction of a packing shed in the Kimberley, WA.
Powered by solar panels and fitted with hydro panels that can draw 20 litres of drinking water a day from the humidity in the air, the shed will allow the community to store food properly, sell it for a higher profit margin and increase their output. Zonfrillo hopes it will be the first shed of many – but first, the foundation needs more money. In his words, the sheds are “pretty f—ing expensive”, at about $200,000 a pop.
Zonfrillo is certainly not the first to spotlight native foods. At Attica, in Melbourne, Ben Shewry serves wallaby with wattleseed miso. Kylie Kwong has been fusing Australian native ingredients with Asian flavours for years. Smaller companies have been selling Davidson plums, tea-tree products and lemon myrtle since the 1980s. But Zonfrillo is the first to engage government, business, philanthropy and academia to solve the lack of information that has kept a lid on demand, and then in turn solve the logistical problems that have limited supply.
If he has his way, there will be no more “native foods”. There will just be foods, some of which happen to come from Australia. “We’ve got wasabi from Japan and acai berries from South America in Woolworths; how do we not have gubinge or lilly-pilly berries?” he asks.
So no, Zonfrillo isn’t the first to try to make native foods really happen. But he is likely be the first person with the tenacity to succeed.
“Once, when I was out fishing with Jock, we had to send a drone after him,” Norman Gillespie tells me. Gillespie is the chair of the Orana Foundation, the sensible spreadsheet to Zonfrillo’s wild ideas man, and who has decades of experience in non-profits and the arts and community sectors, including as chief executive at UNICEF Australia and the Sydney Opera House. “Jock leaves the boat, and there’s mangroves all around us, there could be crocodiles for all we know. He just walks straight out, and after a while, we all start to think, ‘We’d better go look for him.’ Luckily, the photographer had a drone.”
Zonfrillo was fine, as he always is at the end of these stories that people keep telling me. He goes out fishing and jumps in shark-infested waters; he’s fine. He camps in some of the most remote sites in Australia, where his neighbours are death adders and king browns; he’s fine. He gets fired as a teenager and he quits his job at a top restaurant when he has two children to feed, and he’s fine.
I get my own taste of Zonfrillo’s particular brand of fearlessness when I’m invited to go on country with him, Orana’s general manager Greta Wohlstadt, a team of chefs from the restaurant, and his wife, Lauren, and their 14-month-old son, Alfie. Zonfrillo has also invited some friends who share his passion for native ingredients: Margot Janse, who ran Le Quartier Française in South Africa to great acclaim for many years, and Alex Atala, the former punk turned Amazonian-foraging head chef and owner of Brazil’s D.O.M., which was, at last count, ranked at number 30 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
The drive is three hours north of Broome (on a good day; when the roads are wet, it can take up to five). Phone reception stops a few kilometres out of town and doesn’t return again until you get back. I’m sitting up front with Zonfrillo as he drives (yes, fearlessly) through water that occasionally reaches our windows. When we finally reach Twin Lakes Cultural Park – location of the first packing shed and home to Bruno Dann and his partner Marion Louise Manson, our hosts for the week – there is nothing to see but bush and red dirt.
Or so I assume. After dinner that first night (you haven’t lived until a man with his own Chef’s Table episode, Alex Atala, has made you a sausage sizzle), Jock pours tea for us all. “This is jilungin,” Lauren, Zonfrillo’s wife, tells me, pointing to a nearby tree. “We serve it in the restaurant.”
Jilungin was tested by RMIT and found to have 100 times the antioxidants of green tea, which it resembles in taste, minus the bitterness. “Why aren’t we all drinking this?” I think, which is exactly the point of this entire endeavour, and made more and more obvious to me as the week goes on, as more of the land comes into focus. There is min-min, a small green flower that tastes like a crisp snow pea, and bush passionfruit – tiny, very sweet, thin-skinned berries. There’s red gum sap that numbs your mouth and sweet bush onions you can eat straight from the dirt. And that’s just the flora: there’s talk of going goanna hunting but we run out of time (it tastes like chicken, apparently).
Dann, who owns the land with Manson, has lived here since 1998, when it was repatriated to him through native title. He loves Zonfrillo like a son, and it is obvious that the feeling is mutual. “You know there’s a picture of me in the restaurant?” Dann asks me. He’s been to Orana (where he wore a ski jacket to dinner in summer – it’s so cold outside of Broome, he tells me) and he loved it, though he admits that seeing his own ingredients – namely, gubinge, or kakadu plum, and jilungin – on the menu was “very strange. It tasted pretty good, though,” he confirms.
Dann is just one of the Aboriginal elders with whom Zonfrillo has forged a connection stronger than food or commerce. The chef has been coming here for 10 years. In 2007, divorced from his first wife and unable to see his young daughter as much as he’d like, Zonfrillo had the time to invest in visiting Aboriginal communities, and so he did. The first time, he drove five hours to a community, only to be thrown out at the gate. He came back 12 more times – and was finally welcomed in, seemingly on the basis of his indefatigable grit. What he saw there – poverty, lack of infrastructure, disease – was “the biggest f—ing injustice I’d ever seen in my life”.
“Eventually, I realised I had to do something,” he says, as we stand in an open shipping container that has become our makeshift kitchen for the week, the roar of an afternoon thunderstorm ripping open the sky. “The only way I knew how to do anything was through food. So I thought, if I can tell these amazing stories about the food I’ve tasted with communities, maybe that will start the ball rolling in a different direction.” He decided to start a foundation, but quickly realised he had no idea of how to get traction.
Years went by, he tells me, and as he turned his hand to importing Thermomixes, he realised that the foundation he dreamed of couldn’t exist without a platform. Some chefs create a restaurant in the hope it can spin them off into more lucrative ventures, such as reality TV or having their own brand of knives. What Zonfrillo wanted to do was sink his own money into a fine-dining restaurant in the hope of said restaurant becoming so acclaimed that, on the back of its name, he’d be able to launch a foundation to improve Indigenous welfare. Fate intervened, though, when Penfolds head-hunted him to “create the most Australian menu for the most Australian brand of wine”. “Well,” he told them. “It just so happens I’ve got this f—ing idea.”
The idea was solid; the partnership with Penfolds, not so much. (The best rumour he heard about that split? “That I stole a million dollars from them.”) But when they “parted ways”, to use Penfolds parlance, in 2013, Zonfrillo finally had the opportunity to start his life’s work. So he did.
In the first year, Restaurant Orana lost $360,000. The next year, $270,000. Year three: $180,000. Four: $20,000. In its fifth year, Orana broke even. That happened to be the year Gourmet Traveller named the restaurant Australia’s best. “It was like Pretty Woman,” he says now of his departure from Penfolds. “I’m Julia Roberts and they’re the boutique owners who won’t sell me any clothes, even though I’ve got the f—ing money right here. You know? Big mistake. Huge.”
Jock Zonfrillo was born in Glasgow in 1976. His parents, Ivan and Sarah, were a barber and hairdresser respectively. His older sister grew up to be a biochemist and worked on cloning Dolly the Sheep. Jock, who says he was a naughty kid, always knew that he wanted to be a chef.
At 11 he started working in his first kitchen in Glasgow, washing dishes. One night, a chef was in a motorbike accident. The head chef asked Zonfrillo to pitch in on the vegetable station. He cut a deal: he’d do it for a pay rise and the promise that he’d never have to wash a dish again. “So I cooked that night, two kinds of vegetables, nothing crazy. But I loved it. It was the first time I felt like a crucial cog in the machine. Everyone had a job and every job mattered.”
He left school at 14 and apprenticed at The Turnberry in Glasgow. He heard the other chefs talking about Michelin-starred restaurants and was intrigued. At 17 he moved to England and found work at The Arkle in Chester – the scene of his firing, after which he took the train to London. “I thought, ‘F— you, you’re one Michelin star. I’m going to find a job at a three-Michelin-star place.’”
He went straight to the Restaurant Marco Pierre White, at the time the biggest name in the culinary world. “Ever the optimist, I knocked on the door and thought, ‘It’ll be fine. I’ll get a job.’” He had no accommodation and little money beyond what he’d spent on his train ticket. He had, as well, that aforementioned drug habit – forged in Glasgow but well and truly nurtured in England.
“I’m standing at the door like a bloody idiot, and the last person I expect to see is Marco Pierre White. He stares at me and then walks off and disappears down a corridor. I’m thinking, ‘Do I follow him?’ OK, I’ll follow him.’”
He found White, the enfant terrible of Britain’s 1990s food explosion, in his office, a space the size of a broom cupboard and meant, perhaps, to show off the chef’s imposing size and reputation. “I said, ‘I’d like a job,’ and Marco said to me, ‘Where did you last work and why did you leave?’”
Thinking he was “f—ed either way”, Zonfrillo told the truth: he’d been fired.
Undeterred, White called the restaurant. “‘Hello,’ he says, ‘this is Marco Pierre White. I’m ringing for a reference for Jock.’” The chef on the other end hung up, thinking it was a prank. White rang again, insisted it was really him, and asked what he could expect of Zonfrillo. “He told Marco I was a drug addict who couldn’t cook, that I was a bastard to work with.”
Maybe it takes one bastard to know another, because White hired him on the spot. It seems obvious to say that working with White, the youngest chef ever to win three Michelin stars, was formative, but for Zonfrillo, it was more than simply learning about the “relentless pursuit of excellence” in the kitchen. After service ended, Zonfrillo would walk a lap of Hyde Park, buy drugs and come back to the restaurant, where he slept in the change rooms. One night, a sommelier caught Zonfrillo and told the boss. “Marco could have fired me, but he didn’t,” says Zonfrillo now. “He rang the nearest hostel, got me to the top of the line, and gave me enough money to pay [for it]. He honestly saved my life.”
Working for White was “a double-edged sword”, he says. On one hand, it gave him a taste of what perfection could look like; on the other, it forced him to push everything else aside. “So many amazing chefs came out of that kitchen,” he says, “But it was always intense. It was run on fear.” This atmosphere, coupled with his taste for heroin, left Zonfrillo seeking greener pastures. “I’d seen ads for Australia: beautiful beaches, beautiful women. I thought, ‘what the f— am I doing here?’”
When he arrived in Australia – “in the wrong f—ing city” – he got a job as a chef on the run, a freelance cook taking shifts wherever he was needed. For someone used to the white heat of a three-Michelin-star kitchen, deep-frying calamari and serving “salad from a box” was something of a comedown. “I’d rung all of the three-hat restaurants in Sydney – Neil Perry, Tetsuya’s,” he says, “and I got the same answer from all of them: ‘We don’t take travellers.’”
He was ready to go back to Britain when he decided to give one of the restaurants on his list another call. He was in luck: Dietmar Sawyere, the owner and head chef at Forty One, happened to be a man down. “Come and see me on Monday,” he said.
“He was full of self-confidence,” Sawyere says now of the first time he met Zonfrillo. “I think he thought, ‘I’ve worked for Marco, I can do anything.’ I thought if he can harness his ego, he’ll go far. But I’ve seen a lot of chefs like him crash and burn. It could go either way.” Sawyere invited Zonfrillo to come for a trial; he returned the next day as a line cook. He quickly climbed the ranks at Forty One, spending a year there in 1994, and then returning as head chef in 2000. The work opened his eyes to a world of new ingredients – “I opened the cupboard and there’s soy sauce, Chinese vinegars, wasabi” – and cemented his place in Australia.
It was at Forty One that Zonfrillo began to use native foods. “It was virtually unheard of at that time,” says Sawyere. “I was interested, because I’d been in Asia for many years, where we used native produce all the time. But in Australia, it wasn’t done.”
One restaurant, Edna’s Table in Sydney, served lemon myrtle, riberries and macadamia nuts – and, as Sawyere recalls, “was not really taken that seriously”. When Sawyere and Zonfrillo experimented with natives, Zonfrillo says they were pilloried.
As for how Zonfrillo became obsessed by native foods in the first place, the story is illustrative of how hidden from sight they have been. After his first year of living in Australia, it struck him as odd that he was yet to meet a single Aboriginal person. He went back to Britain, working for the likes of Gordon Ramsay (it was “the worst kitchen” he ever worked in, he says.) When he came back to Australia with his first wife, in 2000, Zonfrillo made it his mission to seek out food that could not be found anywhere else.
“This is the oldest surviving culture in the world,” he says. “I’m thinking it’s got to be good from a food perspective. But everyone told me there’s nothing there.”
Searching through the dry stores of every restaurant he worked in, Zonfrillo found those words to be true – dried lemon myrtle leaves, frozen quandong. He tried cooking with them but it all tasted bland. He went to the library but couldn’t find a recipe book. Finally, he went to Circular Quay, where he knew there’d be buskers playing didgeridoo.
“I met this guy, Jimmy, and I sat down and asked him about food. We talked for four hours,” he says. Far from the food desert Zonfrillo had heard about, Jimmy opened his eyes to a literal bounty of Indigenous food culture. “Jimmy was telling me about eating stingrays when they’re fat. And I’m thinking, stingrays? Stingrays aren’t fat. But they are, during mating season. And when they’re fat, they’re delicious. They break it down and take the liver out, and just quickly sear it, 15 seconds a side. Chop it up and fold that beautiful fat through the fish. And I’m thinking, ‘This is not a food culture? In what world is this not a f—ing food culture?’”
Justin Healy, one of the Orana chefs with us in the Kimberley, has been with the restaurant almost since the beginning. He met Jock while working at a nearby cafe. “I made his sandwich every day,” he tells me, “I knew who he was, and I made sure I was around when he came in.”
One day he gathered the courage to ask Zonfrillo for a job. For more than three months, Justin would finish his cafe job at 4pm, race to Orana for dinner service, head home in the early hours of the morning and start at the cafe again at 8am. “There’s nowhere else in Adelaide that does what Jock does,” Healy says. “Actually, there’s nowhere else in Australia.”
General manager Greta Wohlstadt tells a similar story. “Everyone knew about Jock,” she says. “Everyone wanted to work for him.” She got a job as a waiter at Magill Estate first, not knowing Zonfrillo’s time with the restaurant was almost up. She followed him to Orana, for the promise of something exciting and new, but with very little actual detail. For the first four weeks, she grouted tiles and sanded tables. She had no idea they’d be building the restaurant themselves. But with no investors, they had little choice. “We worked every day, for a month, from 9am until 4am. Then after we’d made this restaurant, we had to open it and run it. It was crazy.”
If Zonfrillo’s career has been defined somewhat by those two career setbacks, his personal life has taken a markedly different path since meeting his third wife, marketing specialist Lauren Fried, five years ago.
Wohlstadt tells me that life with Zonfrillo pre-Lauren was “chaotic. There was no order to the kitchen, dishes would come out when they were ready, not when diners were ready to eat them. It was really intense and I think Lauren helped calm that down and add some focus.”
Though Fried – now a Zonfrillo, too, after their 2017 wedding – isn’t officially involved in the restaurant, she is a foundation board member and widely credited among Zonfrillo’s staff as taming the beast. The pair met through a mutual friend (“She said, ‘I’ve found the perfect guy for you, he’s a champagne ambassador,’” recalls Lauren) and their first date, in Sydney, ran from Tuesday evening to Friday morning, when Zonfrillo had to return to Adelaide. That afternoon, Lauren hopped on a plane to Adelaide. “I told my sister, ‘I don’t believe in love at first sight … but I think it’s happening to me right now.’”
“When Lauren came along it was like, ‘Thank God’,” says Wohlstadt. “He chilled out a lot. You know, he is such a perfectionist and he’s doing something great for the whole Australian food scene, but that can make you a bit of an arsehole. He’s certainly not Australia’s sweetheart.”
Lauren tells me about the time Zonfrillo obsessed over making a Malteser from scratch. “Why do you have to make a Malteser? You can buy them everywhere! It wasn’t even for the menu. He was just playing. But he needed to prove he could do it.” Both women agree that when Orana was named best restaurant, it was a huge mark of validation.
“He had a lot to prove,” says Wohlstadt. “We got slated at the beginning. He wasn’t well loved by the industry, so to get those awards … well, I think it helped him focus more on the foundation, actually. He could let his breath out.”
With Lauren’s help, the foundation finally took shape. A magazine feature about Orana caught the eye of American philanthropist Dena Kaye, who was living in Sydney at the time. Her father, actor Danny Kaye, was UNICEF’s first celebrity ambassador, and through this connection, Kaye knew Norman Gillespie. Intrigued by this Scottish chef with an Italian surname intent on changing up Australian food, Kaye and her husband flew to Adelaide to dine at Orana but found themselves too late for the lunch service. They were taken downstairs to Blackwood, where, as luck would have it, Zonfrillo was too.
“If we hadn’t been late, I might not have met him,” she says. “And if I hadn’t met him, I wouldn’t have realised that this guy is the real deal. He’s not doing any of this for the accolades. He’s doing it because he wants to change things for the better.”
Kaye offered both money and expertise; she told Zonfrillo to contact Gillespie, who could help him transform the foundation from an idea to reality.
“When I first met Jock, he had all this energy and passion, but no focus,” says Gillespie. “I said, ‘Let’s sit down and talk about exactly what you want to achieve, and we won’t leave until we figure it out.’” The pair spent three days in a Sydney hotel room nutting out Zonfrillo’s aims for the foundation.
“We came up with three tasks: one, a compendium of native ingredients, because at that point, only 12 had ever been researched by the government. The second was to research and then develop the ingredients; no manufacturer is ever going to put an ingredient in their lotion or food without a toxicity report, you know? And the third was to create an enterprise culture around food for these communities. How could we make the process – from foraging and harvesting to commercial sale – easier and more profitable for the communities?”
Gillespie urged Zonfrillo to ask the government for funding. They met with the South Australian treasurer at the time, Fraser Ellis, and received their first grant: $1.25 million. Their next stop was the University of Adelaide, where they partnered with Professor Andrew Lowe, the inaugural director of food innovation, to research the first 100 indigenous ingredients for taste, toxicity and health properties. Later this year, a database of 1500 native ingredients will go live, made with bespoke software to protect sensitive information.
“Some information is only for women, some is only for certain tribes,” says Zonfrillo. “To be honest, the software stuff is boring as batshit, but it’s important to do it. So we’re doing it.” The database will be public but some information will be accessible only to certain groups. Companies researching ingredients will pay for the right to do so. It is both a living resource, Gillespie says, with the power to change the food industry in Australia (for instance, by finding new, better ingredients for existing products) and a rock-solid archive that will tell the tale of native foods for generations to come.
And now, just three years after Zonfrillo and Gillespie first met, we are at Twin Lakes to begin the work of creating an enterprise culture, the final piece of the puzzle, connecting remote communities to the supply chain of the food industry. We are here to build a packing shed that will make Bruno Dann’s food business – and in fact, the food businesses of an entire community – more streamlined and efficient. “At the moment, the food that gets picked – fruit, vegetables, tea leaves – is packed into plastic shopping bags and sort of dumped somewhere,” Gillespie tells me. It’s a risk to the food’s quality and quantity – kilograms of raw ingredients can be spoiled this way.
The shed will allow the community to store their ingredients properly, with freezers, fridges, shelves and drying racks, plus doors that open up to allow trucks to back up and fill their trays. Designed by SJB Architects (who worked pro-bono), the modular shed is entirely self-sufficient, with hydro and solar panels to generate its own water and energy. It can be made into any shape the community needs and is fire- and cyclone-proof, a necessity in the Kimberley.
Zonfrillo’s hope is that this prototype shed will work – that more food, better food, will come out of the region and, with the help of the database, these ingredients will start to be used in more commercial enterprises. Why wouldn’t L’Oréal, for example, want to use gubinge, a fruit with 100 times the vitamin C of oranges, in its face creams? Why wouldn’t Woolworths want to make bread out of native grains? Zonfrillo is banking on those questions being rhetorical now, with the twin powers of the database and the shed.
On our last day at Twin Lakes, we visit a nearby pearling farm to make lunch for the workers. I meet Albert Wiggan, an Aboriginal land rights activist who met Zonfrillo at a mining protest. He tells the story as if everyone knows it; that in 2013, this famous chef left his own restaurant to blockade a major mining company from drilling into native land.
I ask Zonfrillo about it later and he is similarly nonchalant. “You do think to yourself, well, it’s not my business, I’m just a chef, what the f— has it got to do with me? I’m not going to jump on every political standpoint, I can’t go to every protest. But I think everyone should f—ing do it, every now and again. Because if you believe in something you should probably do something about it.” He adds, much later, after I press him, that he stayed at the blockade for a month.
I tell him that’s a long time to leave your own life and career, but Zonfrillo is unperturbed. “Change takes time, you know? It’s like the food out here. It’s like warrigal greens. Yes, they might take three times longer to grow than iceberg lettuce, but just bloody plant more of them. Just work it out. If we can work out how to land a f—ing rocket vertically, I’m sure we can figure this shit out. It’s not that hard.”
Original Article: Australian Financial Review