The final meal taken on board the Endeavour after leaving Botany Bay was skate and warrigal greens, according to the diary of ship’s botanist Joseph Banks, although they weren’t warrigal greens then. That was the name given to them by veteran forager and wild food researcher, Peter Hardwick, almost 40 years ago. He is also the supplier of native foods such as lemon myrtle, riberries and aniseed myrtle for Harvest Cafe at Newrybar, south of Byron Bay, which continues to showcase distinctly hyper regional cuisine.
In Sydney, Chef Kylie Kwong uses warrigal greens in stir-fries or chops it finely and mixes it with black fungus and ginger to use in dumplings at her Sydney restaurant, Billy Kwong.
In Melbourne, Ben Shewry continues to lead the charge with native ingredients in offerings such as Attica's signature Wallaby Blood Pudding Pikelets with pineapple sage blossoms, licorice leaves, native Davidson plum jam and beer cream.
While other top chefs – James Viles (Biota, Bowral) and Jock Zonfrillo (Orana, Adelaide) – hunt and gather their own wild and native food the trend is filtering down from hatted restaurants. Boutique hotel chain QT has even employed its own Canberra-based forager.
Located in the heart of Newtown, Favola is a purveyor of fine Italian pasta with an Aussie twist. Chef Fabio Stefanelli serves up Italian pasta dishes and ventures into uncharted territory with a fusion of native Australian ingredients and Italian sensibilities. For example, Tucker Dal is a dish of bush meats, native spices and mountain thyme.
Nearby at Oscillate Wildly, chef and owner, Karl Firla (ex Est., Marque, and Bridgewater Mill), brings together a lifetime of skills and knowledge to design a menu that demonstrates his advanced techniques and his love of cooking in dishes such as Tomato, Ponzu, Fingerlime.
In Cairns, Ochre owner and executive chef continues to showcase local produce and on trend ingredients in dishes such as quinoa, roast beetroot and macadamia salad with fennel, orange, pickled muntrie and labna.
For future food trends, experts in WA have been domesticating native vegetables which grow in sandy soil, which is unsuitable for growing grains or grazing. The vegetables, including both the youlk and kulyu, have long been cultivated by indigenous Australians and now chefs are starting to show interest in using them.
In SA, growers Mike and Gayle Quarmby of Outback Pride have had such success with their domesticated indigenous plants that they have testimonials from top chefs, including Kylie Kwong, Simon Bryant and Peter Gilmore.
At Hiakai, in Wellington, Chef Monique Fiso has a focus on the innovative use of indigenous cuisine in dishes such as Ngai Tahu Bluff oysters with karamu berry mignonette foam and pickled karamu berries, kumara gnocchi in a sauce of huhu grubs or her treatment of titi, a native seabird, placed inside a tube of kelp, then poached in its own rendered fat. Fiso was recently presented with the Future Food Legend Award at the recent Cuisine Good Food Awards.
Mokoia Restaurant is a contemporary fine diner in Rotorua which features Pacific Rim cuisine using indigenous herbs and spices. The menu includes the 'tastes of New Zealand’ in dishes such as the indigenous herb, kawakawa, on a crusted lamb backstrap or the woody evergreen horopito in a venison dish in its “first flavours menu”.
On the casual side of Kiwi cuisine, at Depot, in Auckland, native ingredients are found in the hapuka sliders with lemon mayo and rocket, and duck fat yams served with sumac, mint, and yogurt. Pāua is a go-to indigenous shellfish which can be elevated to the next level, including Logan Brown on Wellington’s Cuba Street strip, which serves pāua ravioli with coriander, basil, and lime beurre blanc. Further south in Queenstown, Amisfield has pāua pie with mānuka smoked potato on a tasting menu and there is always a paua fritter at the local fish and chip shop.
You’d be mad not to look in your own backyard for ingredients which will become your point of difference.