New series Nomad Chef documents the culinary traditionsof remote native communities, writes Dennis Chua
CHEF and adventurer Jock Zonfrillo goes to some of the world’s most remote communities in TLC’s all-new 10-part series, Nomad Chef, premiering tomorrow at 10pm.
The Australia-based chef hunts, harvests and forages with indigenous people for the ingredients that go into their dishes.
In a journey full of enlightenment (and danger), he learns to cook as the natives do. He seeks to uncover what these culinary geniuses can teach us about living sustainably, cooking creatively and eating the best we can.
From hunting fruit bats in the South Pacific to harvesting goose barnacles in Spain, he faces adventure all the way.
In each episode, Zonfrillo returns home to his restaurant, Orana, where he creates a new menu inspired by his trips. Here, he attempts to successfully translate his experience in the flavours of the dishes he creates.
Born in the United Kingdom, Zonfrillo moved to Australia in 2000. He has been credited with putting Adelaide, his hometown, back on the map for destination diners with Orana, which he opened in 2013, inspired by his obsession with native wild ingredients, his respect for culture and his love for foraging, diving and hunting.
He says: “It was the most exciting and humbling of experiences. So many culinary traditions are being lost in the modern world. Nomad Chef is an educational and exciting trip, and I am honoured to be part of it.”
LOVE OF COOKING
Born to an Italian and Scottish family, Zonfrillo was heavily influenced by his grandfathers. His Scottish grandfather was a beef farmer and his Neapolitan grandfather instilled in him a passion for quality ingredients.
“The kitchen was my natural home and here I developed my love of cooking when I was 12,” says Zonfrillo, adding that he loved to read about distant lands and dreamed of travelling and tasting new food.
Honing his skills in the country hotels of Scotland, he was attracted to the competitive kitchens of London where he worked with many great chefs, including Marco Pierre White.
“At Restaurant Marco Pierre White in Knightsbridge, I was part of the three Michelin-starred team,” he says. “The need for ingredients at their source made me move to Kent — the Garden of England — and work with David Cavalier at Michelin-starred Chapter One.”
Wanting to expand his knowledge, he spent a year in Australia at Sydney’s Restaurant 41. Australia had a huge impact on him, but he still returned to the UK to boost his resume.
Working again for White at Les Saveurs, he left to join The Pharmacy, a restaurant in London acclaimed for cutting edge cuisine. Zonfrillo subsequently opened a restaurant in a boutique hotel on the Cornish coast.
“In 2000, I finally returned to Australia as head chef of Restaurant 41. My time in Sydney was followed by a move to Adelaide as executive chef at Magill Estate Restaurant. Here’s where I am, now as chef and owner of the Street-ADL and Orana restaurants, my first solo ventures,” he says.
A father of two daughters, aged 9 and 13, from a previous marriage, the 38-year-old chef says his mission is to preserve unique cultures around the globe via food.
Both his girls help him out in the kitchen and he believes one of them might follow his footsteps someday.
“Food is culture, a window to the world of every diverse community in our planet. It brings people together, and as a traveller I’ve learnt there are lots of inter-connectedness between foods that transcend geographical and cultural boundaries,” he says.
Zonfrillo has enjoyed visiting the Philippines in his new series. There he was amazed with how indigenous people terrace hills for rice cultivation and find ingredients for their daily meals in the fields.
“Ethiopia has a beautiful food culture waiting to be discovered. The Faroe Islands is rugged and this is reflected by its recipes that share a lot with Scotland,” he says.
While travelling has its risks — dangerous wildlife like electric eels and crocodiles — Zonfrillo was also exposed to the dangers of political conflict in Ethiopia.
“Every destination has its danger. But life is about overcoming challenges, and in my case it’s discovering culinary gems. People at every destination were hospitable, and I’m delighted to have had wonderful hosts,” he says.
“While the food I’ve tasted has been ‘out of the world’ such as eels that feel like jelly, that’s what adventure is all about.”
Nomad Chef was filmed over nine months last year, and some episodes were filmed back to back, such as Zonfrillo’s trips to Belize and Peru.
“My next trip is safe — New York City, but even then, I’ll be looking for ideas too,” he says.
Zonfrillo shares five tips with aspiring “nomad chefs”: Bring something useful to start the fire, do your homework, do not over pack, keep the cooking simple and take a swag.
“And always read up about your destination, and make sure you are safe,” he says.
Nomad Chef is a production of Discovery Networks International led by Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific, and produced by Singapore-based Beach House Pictures and Australia-based Chemical Media.
The series is commissioned and executive produced by Vikram Channa for DNI, Donovan Chan for Beach House Pictures and Tony Jackson for Chemical Media.
Nomad Chef airs every Monday at 10pm on TLC (Astro channel 707). Repeats every Tuesday at 4pm and Saturday at 8pm.
Episode 1: Vanuatu
Zonfrillo ventures to the South Pacific island of Tanna to find out how people cook. On an island of former headhunters, he is welcomed by the Yakel people who have turned their backs on modern life.
He joins the tribe’s best marksmen to hunt for fruit bat with a bow and arrow, poaches chicken in a bubbling volcanic hot spring and heals a tribal dispute by cooking a sacrificial pig in a giant earth oven. Back home, he experiments with blowtorched taro and “sulphur” chicken.
Episode 2: Ethiopia
In Ethiopia’s central highlands, Zonfrillo finds out how one of the oldest farming communities has turned thousands of years of culture into the envy of Africa. He experiences a Christmas brunch of raw beef stomach, masters the art of making berebere - the queen of all spice mixes - with the world’s biggest mortar and pestle, and makes moonshine from fermented corn that could launch a jumbo jet.
Back home, he makes injera bread and serves raw meat.
Episode 3: China
In China’s Yunnan province, he discovers how the Water Dai people have developed a style that fuses the cuisines of China and Southeast Asia.
In the Xishuangbanna region, a stone’s throw from China’s border with Vietnam, Myanmar and Laos, he discovers the delights of river moss, elephant apples, raw pig’s blood and bamboo-fermented fish. Back home, he serves eight dishes including raw pig’s blood.
Episode 4: The Philippines
Zonfrillo hikes into the rugged mountains of northern Luzon to discover the culinary traditions of former headhunters. Amid the cascading rice terraces of the Ayangan people, he discovers the secrets of a chicken’s bile sac, tracks down a tasty monitor lizard using Filipino hunting dogs and fashions a lethal spear gun from a rubber band and an umbrella spoke.
Back home, he serves snails on grass juice and boils raw chicken.
Episode 5: Japan
Zonfrillo unlocks the secrets of Japan’s ancient cuisine. On the rugged island of Yakushima off Japan’s southern coast, he leaps from the deck of a trawler on the high seas to manhandle flying fish into nets, free dives for a deadly blowfish and traps a native deer.
Back home, he serves eight dishes in a Japanese bento box including a dessert made from garlic and a dish of raw fish sperm.
Episode 6: Belize
Going into the jungles of Belize to discover the culinary secrets of the Mayans, Zonfrillo meets the country’s coastal people descended from indigenous Arawaks and Africans.
He dives for conch, goes hunting for rodents and discovers that chocolate grows on trees. Back home, he experiments with abalone and cacao ceviche, dessert tortillas and cocktails.
Episode 7: Peru
It’s off to the Peruvian Amazon to discover how the locals treat the river and rainforest as their larder.
Travelling from the jungle metropolis of Iquitos to the remote village of Puca Urquillo, Zonfrillo has a taste of electric eel and barbecued weevils, alligator tail and leafcutter ant stew.
Back home, he experiments with shaved crocodile and black ant salt.
Episode 8: Faroes
Zonfrillo heads for the Faroe Islands to discover Viking cuisine. In the rugged archipelago, he celebrates the summer solstice by going “skyfishing” for puffins up a 200m cliff, armed with a giant net, makes blood sausage from sheep in the most dangerous pasture, and cooks fermented whale fat.
Back home, he serves mutton-bird, faux whale blubber and lamb’s blood cake.
Episode 9: Spain
From Galicia’s Coast of Death to the peaks of Asturia, Zonfrillo explores how Celtic and Roman traditions shaped the cuisine of northern Spain.
He risks his life harvesting goose barnacles on a wave-battered coast, meets the Queen of Empanadas and buries a smoked Gamoneu cheese 15m deep in a cave in the Picos de Europa.
Back home, he makes triple cheese treats and captures the briny flavours of the Bay of Biscay with a red mullet, cockle risotto and smoked mussel stock.
Episode 10: Australia
In Elcho Island, off Australia’s northern coast, Zonfrillo is welcomed by the Yolngu people, a remote aboriginal community which owns a 97,000 sq km reserve that is also one of the deadliest.
He goes spearfishing for stingray in croc-infested waters, harvests green ants to make a medicinal tonic and swallows a foot-long mangrove worm.
Back home, he serves swamp-dwelling molluscs, burnt paperbark and ant’s nest sorbet.