Australia is one of the largest, most sparsely populated countries in the world, yet despite its enormous natural biodiversity, the vast majority of which is endemic, it often goes ignored. This is partly due to its geographical distance from the rest of the world, and its relatively small population, which is less than half that of the United Kingdom.
Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a whole lot of good, clean and fair food being grown and eaten down under, indeed, there are people living the Slow Food philosophy in every part of the country. From the Millbrook Winery in Jarrahdale, Western Australia, where practically everything you can eat is grown onsite, to the “Bush Food” specialists at FirstFoodCo in Salisbury, Southern Australia and Slow-inspired restaurants up and down Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, the word is spreading.
Dale Chapman was the first ever Aboriginal Australian delegate at Terra Madre, in 2006. “To see the artisan approach to ancient methods alive and well was overwhelming. When I returned to Australia, I wanted to give back to my community, so I designed a program called Grow Cook and Eat, which was my way to inform students about the Slow Food philosophy. The program ran for 3 years and has informed and trained Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants to appreciate Mother Earth and what she has to offer. If you respect her, she will give in abundance.
Since then, I’ve established a new company, First Food, which sources native Australian ingredients from Aboriginal communities who wild-harvest or farm a variety of ingredients.
We value add by manufacturing and selling a range of products including spices, salsa, dukkah, popcorn, confectionery, tea and soap. Our bush food industry is seasonal and threatened by global warming and multinational takeovers. We have to look at new ways to keep our industry alive for future generations. But we need to slow down! With Food Connect Brisbane, we’re on a mission to create a fairer food system, which engages local farmers ethically and transparently, to supply fresh, seasonal food. We pay them about four times the amount of the big food chains, so more of your dollars go directly to the growers.”
Matt Golinski is a true ambassador for good, clean and fair, and attended Terra Madre as a delegate in 2014. “It was a great confirmation that there are a lot of people from all over the world with a common goal to preserve their own food culture, and an inspiration to take an active role in educating and encouraging others to do the same.”
Of course, there are major obstacles to overcome, but Matt is working tirelessly towards achieving just that, up and down a long stretch of Queensland known as the Sunshine Coast. “One of Australia’s biggest problems is it’s sheer size and the food miles which we have come to take for granted. Our food culture is moving towards more locally sourced, seasonal and regional consumption as the public become more interested in where there food comes from and how they grow it. This is a slow process and requires a lot of education. Where possible I’m trying to educate people through cooking demonstrations, magazine articles, to think about eating seasonally, buying locally and supporting their farmers and producers.”
At the Millbrook Winery in Jarrahdale, Western Australia, Katrina Lane explains how customers can rest assured that the food on their plates has always travelled the smallest distance possible to get there. “We don’t fill the menu with producer details because we don’t want it to appear out of the ordinary. We want people to trust that they will get the best possible ingredient from us even if it’s not written on the menu. We train our staff on the menu every week and ensure they can talk about every element in detail, should a customer ask. The first thing we do when guests arrive is explain the kitchen and our garden; it is explained and described to our guests and that information is used as a carrot, an indicator that the waitperson has information and if the guest wishes to engage there is much much more to discover.”
Katrina spent many years living in Italy, where she first got involved with Slow Food and Terra Madre before returning to her native Western Australia and taking on the role of manager at Millbrook. The vineyard here started 25 years ago, and the restaurant 15 years later. The chef Guy Jeffrey, has been working there for seven years, where as well cooking he attends to the extensive vegetable garden which supplies it. “We’ve got over 100 varieties growing here, all following seasonality. It’s all chemical-free, hand-weeded and organic. The chefs are the gardeners, and all the meats are locally sourced from small producers raising heritage breed animals. No shed-raised protein reaches our plates. We use the whole animal too, and nothing goes to waste. In fact, every Monday is our no waste day, when the menu is made up entirely of leftovers from the previous week.”
“Chefs are educators. Not just for the customers, but for all the people we work with, from the waiters to the suppliers. A lot of chefs just pick up the phone and order stuff from thousands of miles away, I don’t agree with that. Our menu may be minimalist, we expect the people who come to already know a little bit, so the floor staff are telling stories about the produce. It’s not about the rock star stuff, it’s the everyday stuff. It’s a necessity, not a fashion.”