Australia’s first indigenous hatted chef, Clayton Donovan has turned his restaurant into a mobile pop-up concept, allowing him to capitalise on the industry’s growing interest in native foods.

I have a hospitality-friendly family life now, and that’s because we closed our Nambucca Heads restaurant, Jaaning Tree, about two years ago. I’ve gotten back into pop-ups, mentoring and guest cheffing – so I get a little bit of spare time. I actually had Christmas off last year, which was amazing. I’ve also had time to work on developing a native cider with finger lime and apple – Byron Bay Wild Cider. So closing the restaurant has allowed me to express myself through the industry in different ways. It’s great.

There was a time back in the day when native foods weren’t really celebrated. Now, to see them rise onto a world platform and grow as a food trend is great. We’ve got all these great native foods which are basically superfoods. As a chef, they’re unique and they give you another range of colours and shades to work with, which sounds crazy because these are some of the oldest foods in the world, but they’re some of the newest flavours on the block in Australia.

Rene Redzepi asked me to present at the recent MAD Symposium, and when we finished I went up to him and said ‘Thanks for giving me the chance to speak about this stuff’ because it’s important that kids know about it. It all boils down to education. I have friends in Italy whose kids all know the regions that make parmesan and they know all about arborio rice; they know where their food comes from and what it is. In Australia we should have our kids treating wattleseed, lemon myrtle and finger lime as carrots, onions and garlic.

Kids should be able to recognise what we have here in Australia, and it starts with what they get taught at school and home. And then also with the training of chefs coming through the industry. We need to make a conscious decision to broaden the modules on native foods.

What Rene’s done here has awakened a lot of people. It needed to happen and if it’s taken a Dane to come over here and do it, so be it; I don’t care, man. 


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