In a previous post I mentioned that my husband and I finally visited Australia and New Zealand this past fall. We took advantage of all of the in-season offerings from the land and sea that these countries offer, but there was one destination where a cooking class of sorts was offered by the executive chef, although no cooking was necessary.
It was a tasting menu of the local edibles, from leaves to berries to bark, and then some. Only one other person joined in, so she and I had the chef all to ourselves.
The chef was Jonathan Bryant, at Longitude 131, a hotel in the “spiritual heart of Australia, the Red Centre, also known as Uluru, rich in Aboriginal culture and rugged outback beauty.”
This is the sampler he placed before us.
A print-out was included, which was quite handy, especially now, as I’ve forgotten most of the names of these “exotic” edibles. Of course, these were only exotic to the two of us eager students; all of these local foods were used by the Aborigines for food as well as medicinal purposes.
For example, Quandong, a modest but nutritious fruit. Both the fruit and its large seed are utilized in many ways. Just that morning I’d had Quandong jam on my sheep’s milk yogurt. It was delicious.
Then there was a finger lime – something I’d only seen on food blogs. You open this finger-shaped lime, thus the name, and out bursts little micro-sized balls of lime – sometimes called lime “caviar.” I added some to my gin and tonic, as per the chef’s suggestion.
We also tasted Desert Limes, which are very tiny, but I didn’t get a good photo.
Wattleseed was really fascinating to me; I’m surprised it hasn’t become the “new” seed trend worldwide. The Aborigines used to grind the seeds, which are harvested from trees, to make flour.
Pictured at the left, above, are wattleseed and a golden variety, which isn’t gold, and the roasted and ground seeds, at the right. At lunch I’d enjoyed wattleseed bread. It was hearty and wonderful.
One interesting fact from the printout: The wattle flower is the well-known emblem of Australia, and is represented in the green and gold worn by Australian athletes.
Paperbark was interesting. Actual tree bark, it adds a smoky flavor to food, so the chef wraps paperbark around fish and vegetables when grilling to impart the smokiness.
Then there was lemon myrtle leaves, similar looking to bay leaves, but a truly potent lemony smell. Not only is lemon myrtle used in cooking, its essential oil is used in soaps, candles, and so forth.
The following look like peppercorns, but they are Muntries, known otherwise as emu apples or native cranberries. They were a precious commodity to the Narrindjeri people of Southern Australia. To me they tasted like Christmas!
Salt bush, pictured below, was salty to me, but its value escaped me. Nonetheless it is used in local cuisine, and sometimes dried into flakes for seasoning. I’d purchased this seasoning mixture without realizing the main ingredient is saltbush!
There was much more to nibble on, but the above were the most fascinating to me. It was a fantastic experience!
Jonathon Bryant is Executive Chef at Longitude 131°. Originally from tropical north Queensland, Jon’s journey to the Red Centre has seen him traverse the east coast of Australia following the classic Reef-to-Rock circuit.
Beginning his career on Hayman Island, Jonathon set off to explore the country, its produce and of course, its kitchens. Time spent in Tasmania saw him gain an appreciation of what it means to ‘dine local’ at fellow Luxury Lodges of Australia property, Saffire Freycinet. From there, a return to island life beckoned on Lord Howe Island where Jon was able to combine his love of fresh seafood with a passion for diving. Each experience helped shaped his light, textured cooking style and his honest, produce driven approach to cuisine.
Following his penchant for regional roles and drawn to Australia’s heartland, Jonathon joined the team at Longitude 131° in 2016. No stranger to the challenges of working in remote locations, Jon consults with a diverse range of people and suppliers to source the best premium produce from all over Australia for his daily changing menus.
Combining new techniques, flavours and native ingredients like lemon myrtle, quandongs and saltbush, Jon aims to translate the creation stories of the indigenous Anangu from the dreaming realm to the plate, offering guests a slice of local life from the very first bite.