I stand for Aborigines

Meeting Jock Zonfrillo, who told us about his cuisine, Bottura, Scabin and much more

04-07-2016
The cooking of Italian-Scottish (now in Australia)

The cooking of Italian-Scottish (now in Australia) Jock Zonfrillo researches the original Australian identity. This is why it uses over 60 aboriginal products and makes their cooking techniques contemporary. We met the chef at Bulgari in Milan. And he told us that...

Photogallery

Alcune immagini della straordinaria cena preparata da Jock Zonfrillo al Bulgari di Milano. Qui due appetizer, Gambero rosso e prugne di Davidson e Nuvole di canguro
Cavolo rapa sottaceto e pepe dorrigo, Lilli Pilly e baccusia
Vongole affumicate e pane cotto sui carboni
Patata al forno, fagioli, zucca, uovo ed acetosella

My name is Zonfrillo, Jock Zonfrillo. If you look at him, and know his story, he looks halfway between a secret agent, an actor from Hollywood and a crazy anthropologist. You wouldn’t place him in a kitchen. Born in Glasgow in 1976 to a Scottish mother and an Italian father, today he’s instead a “trendy” chef, whatever that means, with a passion for aboriginal cuisine, that is to say the one of Australia’s origins. In fact, he’s been working Down Under for 16 years now. He set his roots there in 2000.

He’s an interesting type. Colleague Mirta Oregna notes «various tattoos cover his right arm: there’s a cardoon flower, the emblem of Scotland, and the intimidating motto Nemo me impune lacessit, that is to say “No one attacks me with impunity”; there’s a crow for bad luck, a pig (a passion of his), a skull, a snake and a quote by Steve Jobs "it’s better to be a pirate than join the navy”».

Davide Scabin, Jock Zonfrillo and Andrea Berton with Bulgari’s chef Roberto Di Pinto

Davide Scabin, Jock Zonfrillo and Andrea Berton with Bulgari’s chef Roberto Di Pinto

We first met Zonfrillo at Care’s, in Val Badia, last January: «I am the son of the five o’clock tea and of pasta with tomato sauce. My initial terroirs of reference were indeed two: Scotland, where I was born, and where my mother’s father was a farmer, and Italy where my father’s father came from, [from Scauri, a fishermen village near Gaeta], and he was the one to teach me about product culture».

The imprinting was strong, just look at the names of his friends, including René Redzepi, Magnus Nillson, Alex Atala. All these people fathom their respective areas in search for lichens and ants, bone marrow and pupunha.

To give an example: in Milan, a guest at Bulgari’s within the Epicurea festival, a few weeks ago, he turned up with a suitcase full of herbs and berries, necessary to understand what the heck of recipes he offers in his restaurants: fine dining Orana, signature bistro Blackwood, and then food truck Nonna Mallozzi (named after his father’s grandmother: it serves pasta and sandwiches). All this in Adelaide, a 15,600 km distance from the Madonnina.

He’s a cook it raw fan. He says: «At Orana I try to offer my personal interpretation of Australian cuisine, including the first traditional representations, connected with aboriginal cuisine, as well as its contemporary interpretations, with various barbecue techniques. I like to make people understand the two essential characteristics of this style, territory on the one hand, and fire on the other. I love cooking straight on the embers».

Nonna Mallozzi, Zonfrillo’s “Italian" food truck

Nonna Mallozzi, Zonfrillo’s “Italian" food truck

He tells us how during the afternoon, together with the great butcher Sergio Motta, he worked hard to find a valid alternative to kangaroo meat (that really didn’t fit into the suitcase), to sear on scorching embers. In the end they chose a nice Fassona Piemontese, personally slaughtered and then served to a public among whom Andrea Berton stood out – also thanks to his height – together with Davide Scabin, just back from post-50 Best New York.

So we ask Zonfrillo to comment on Bottura’s success «I’m very happy Massimo was first. He had been in the top five for a long time and it’s fantastic that he has now reached the top deservingly. Belisimo», he smiles with a fair Italian pronunciation. After all, he says, «In my life I’ve always had a strong connection with Italy and its cuisine. I love Bottura. Every time I go to Osteria Francescana my taste buds are in ecstasy. Then I think about a magical place such as Davide’s Combal.zero… Yet I believe Italy is great also thanks to the many trattorias serving traditional cuisine enhancing the ingredients. I find them lovely».

It’s interesting to think that Zonfrillo, a cosmopolitan cook (we’ve already mentioned the Italian-Scottish origins. One must also note he learnt French and non-French techniques with another reckless genius such as Marco Pierre White) has found his perfect place in the cuisine of native Australians. It’s a sign of the times. Yet it wasn’t easy. The search for an authentic Australian gastronomy, connected with the place and not with Western trends, lasted over ten years: «I went to the desert seven times, to ask the Aborigines to tell me their food and non-food culture, because I couldn’t believe that a people with so many centuries of history had not developed one. For seven times they said no, and sent me home empty-handed.

Zonfrillo at Bulgari speaks at the table with Scabin and Andrea Petrini

Zonfrillo at Bulgari speaks at the table with Scabin and Andrea Petrini

They finally convinced themselves and explained everything. Today I use over 60 traditional aboriginal ingredients in my cooking and most of the other ingredients are also now “naturalised” Australian, like food of foreign origin.

Only 10% of this bonanza is made of animal proteins. The rest is vegetables, roots, plants in general. Hence the rockfish is cooked in intertwined mangrove wood, adding smoke and salt. «I cook so that people can enjoy the flavour, the aromatic essence of this nation. I was influenced by the aboriginal idea of healing and being healed by the earth and always giving back more than what you get. I wanted to understand the nutritional and healing features of the indigenous products and respect the relationship with raw materials, earth and culture: this widened my horizons. Working with people who are keepers of this land, instead of owners, has given depth to my style».

More prosaically, we’ve literally went crazy for his scampi wrapped in lard and char grilled with geraldton wax, a plant from the Antipodes – from the Myrtaceae family – which adds crazy acid and citrus fruit notes.


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Photogallery

Alcune immagini della straordinaria cena preparata da Jock Zonfrillo al Bulgari di Milano. Qui due appetizer, Gambero rosso e prugne di Davidson e Nuvole di canguro
Cavolo rapa sottaceto e pepe dorrigo, Lilli Pilly e baccusia
Vongole affumicate e pane cotto sui carboni
Patata al forno, fagioli, zucca, uovo ed acetosella
Ricciola e uova, di Roberto Di Pinto
Scampo avvolto nel lardo e cotto alla brace con geraldton wax
Il prete piemontese
Fragole australiane e panna