If you consider yourself a foodie (and let’s be honest, who doesn’t love their food?), then you’ll probably have heard of the extremely stylish, eternally palatable degustational wonder that is Orana. With unconventional Australian menu items like saltbush, chocolate lily, strawberry gum and green ants (yes, you heard us correctly), Orana in Adelaide is a restaurant unlike any other.
The genius behind Orana, Jock Zonfrillo, has recently introduced Blackwood – Orana’s mysterious younger sister. Hidden away underneath the degustation powerhouse, Blackwood is a slightly more informal (and affordable) alternative featuring low-intervention menu items that overflow with seasonal, native ingredients.
Culinary guru, Jock, took some time out of his very busy schedule to tell us more about what we can expect.
Hi Jock, thanks so much for talking to us. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started in the restaurant industry?
I come from a split culture background – my mum is Scottish and my dad is Italian. So I’d go to Nona’s house for Italian food and my grandmother’s house for meat and potatoes – polar opposites.
Then when I was almost 12, I got a job washing dishes. After about two weeks, one of the chefs was out and the head chef asked me if I’d help him in the kitchen. The first thing I asked was “Will you pay me more money?” I also didn’t want to wash dishes anymore! That was my first foray into cooking, before starting a hospitality apprenticeship at 15.
Wow, you definitely got an early start! What inspired you to open Blackwood?
It was really spending time with my local indigenous community. I wanted to use traditional, seasonal ingredients with a story behind them. There are so many uses for these ingredients; in fact, we have a surplus. When the opportunity came up, it seemed so obvious that that’s what I’d love to do.
I’m not doing it to make money but to connect with the community. That’s why we also have our not-for-profit organisation The Orana Foundation; because we’re more than just a restaurant.
It’s great to see you giving back to the Australian community. We notice Blackwood is actually an Australian wood as well… is that why you chose the name?
Yes, Blackwood is a native wood that’s very popular in the area so it’s the perfect fit. We use blackwood in our tables and even cook different native ingredients in blackwood ash.
You use a lot of unusual Australian ingredients in your cooking – what do you love about using these elements?
We don’t look at them as unusual at all! For us, it’s the norm. We don’t use onion, carrot, celery etc. like many other restaurants. As far as we’re concerned, the ingredients we use are not novelties but typical foods eaten by the local community.
It’s true that these ingredients are right in our backyard and many of us don’t even know about it – until we try your food that is. So what dish are you the most excited about?
Honestly, I don’t have favourites. I like them all so much that I even have to leave dishes off. For me, it’s an ever-evolving cycle of new dishes, flavours and combinations. We love thinking up new ideas and offerings for our customers to try.
We can’t wait to try your inventive dishes! Where do you get your inspiration?
The Aboriginal community that we work with, and especially Dreaming stories. That sort of stuff really impacts me; it plants the seed in my head and develops from there. It’s all about what our land and culture offers.
Orana sits just above Blackwood. Are there any similarities between the two restaurants?
The food philosophy is identical but the serving style is different. It’s a bistro-style restaurant, so quite different to Orana, which has a set menu. Having Blackwood is an opportunity to test out really interesting ingredients. It’s more relaxed and easy-going – perfect for a quick lunch or affordable eating option.
We also heard rumours about you also bringing a new food truck to Adelaide. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Yes, I’m really excited to be serving up some amazing family recipes kicking around from my great-great grandmother Nona Mallozzi. These are the kinds of recipes I grew up with and something I used to eat every day. It’s really cool to have the first Italian food truck (to my knowledge) in Adelaide. We’ll be serving two pastas and two paninis every day, and we’ll also eventually have a soft serve machine in the truck.
When you’re not in the kitchen, where’s your favourite place to eat on your nights off?
I love eating with my children – it’s really important and something I get a huge amount of pleasure from. But it’s also good to eat out sometimes to see what’s new. After all, the only way to see what’s new is by eating out.
Blackwood can be found at 285 Rundle St, Adelaide. Check out their menu here. With four entries, mains and dessert on offer (and the menu constantly changing), it’s safe to say that you’ll probably have to go regularly to try everything on offer!