Chefs, distillers, scientists, and startups are changing the way we eat
Eating and drinking is literally something we can’t live without, something just about everyone on Earth does every single day. We start as babies. Before we can talk or walk, we eat. So, with so much shared human experience with masticating and imbibing, how does one innovate in the spaces of food and drink? That question is answered a few different ways. Some chefs are returning to long-forgotten ingredients. Some entrepreneurs are finding new uses for existing products, while others are using science to create new products. At the other end of the spectrum, others are trying to make sure less of what is produced goes to waste.
While much of Australian cuisine is influenced by European tradition, there are thousands of years of culinary history in the country predating European settlement. Many ingredients found in Australia are found nowhere else.
Chefs such as Jock Zonfrillo — who owns Orana in Adelaide — are incorporating ancient ingredients into modern style, creating a taste that has won Zonfrillo accolades as The Australian’s 2018 hottest chef and Gourmet Traveller’s 2018 restaurant of the year. Zonfrillo has spent 17 years speaking with Aboriginal people and researching their traditional diet. That knowledge has been incorporated into Orana’s philosophy “to heal and be healed by the land and to always give back more than you take” and onto its menu.
Ben Shewry, owner and operator of Melbourne’s Attica, utilizes bunya nuts, yam daisies, and marron in the restaurant’s dishes. While other chefs may have been reluctant to turn to native ingredients such as these, Shewry consistently has Attica ranked among the world’s 50 best restaurants, checking in at number 20 on the 2018 list.
Supplying many of these bush food ingredients to restaurants and home chefs is Jude Mayall, director of Outback Chef. The native food supplier sells spices such as wattleseed, fruits such as quandongs, and distinctly Australian teas on its website, which also features recipes to helps those unfamiliar with the ingredients make the most of their unique flavors.
Something to Wash it Down
Native ingredients haven’t just livened up what’s on your plate. They’ve found their way into the burgeoning craft spirits scene as well.
Bass and Flinders Distillery on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula wine, food, and farmgate trail, infuses some of its gins with native botanicals from Western Australia. These include indigenous lemongrass and flowers such as Mulla Mulla. Four Pillars Distillery in Healesville, Victoria, makes use of Tasmanian pepperberry and lemon myrtle in its gins. “The soft white pepper and dried herbal notes of the leaf could on their own almost make for a savoury gin,” Four Pillars states, “and play well with Asian spices, as does the soft, sweet lemon myrtle.” Kangaroo Island Spirits infuses its Mad Men Gin with a blend of quandong and native cinnamon, lime, and mint botanicals.
Australia made it legal to use hemp seed as a food ingredient effective November 12, 2017, and startups have rushed to get hemp products to market. Hemp seeds are low in THC and thus have little to no psychoactive effect, but proponents say the health benefits are enormous.
MáMilk cold-presses hemp grown and processed in Australia to make a hemp milk rich in fibre, omega acids, and calcium. As with other dairy alternatives, it’s billed as more sustainable and healthful than cow’s milk. Hemp Oz markets hemp kombucha and hemp-infused water as an alternative to sugary drinks. The beverages’ labels play on cultural taboos, proclaiming, “Chill, it’s legal,” and “All health. No high.” Plus Hemp emphasizes that its enhanced water is vegan, eco-friendly, and high in omega-3 and omega-6 acids. Founder Natalie Moubarak was inspired to utilize hemp seed as a way to combat her psoriasis then began experimenting with a drink as a way to get enough nutrients and hydrate on the go.
It’s hard to beat a good hamburger. But the processes of raising and harvesting meat leave a bad taste in many people’s mouths. In dealing with the issue, scientists have gone in a couple of different directions. One is making plant-based meat alternatives. The other is lab-grown cultured meat. This technique takes cells from living animals and uses them to grow meat, preserving the authentic taste of animal flesh without killing anything.
Thomas King founded Australia-based Food Frontier to promote development of and investment in meat alternatives in the Asia Pacific region, where it says meat consumption is on track to double in the coming decades because of population growth.
While regulations and production are not in place in Australia, the country could provide itself with an opportunity to shape the future of food.
“Australia is ideally positioned to be a big producer, and an exporter to Asian countries,” Mark Post, the co-founder of Netherlands-based cultured meat start-up Mosa Meat, told Food & Drink Business.
With so much good food to go around, food waste is a major problem. Foodwise estimates that Australians throw out up to 20 per cent of the food they purchase — about $8 billion worth. The group advises cooking smaller portions, checking what you have in stock before you go shopping, and eating more at home instead of last-minute takeaway to reduce waste. It also suggests composting and home gardens as simple solutions that can help solve the problem on a household basis.
When too much food does get made, OzHarvest wants to be there to rescue it. The organisation collects excess food that is still of good quality from the food industry and donates it to more than 1,300 charities nationwide. Drawing from supermarkets, restaurants, and catering companies among others, OzHarvest says it saves more than 180 tonnes of food per week that would otherwise be thrown out. It has even opened Australia’s first rescued food supermarket, where donations are accepted but the food is free to those who need it.