What do quandongs, bush banana and honey ant have in common? They feature in chef Paul Iskov’s brand new cookbook, Fervor: A journey through Australian native food.
If there’s one cookbook worth buying this Christmas, it’s Fervor: A journey through Australian native food. Why? It offers a unique insight into native Australian bush tucker and, of course, how to cook it. We talk to innovative southwest chef Paul ‘Yoda’ Iskov about his native food journey and how it led to the production of his very first cookbook.
What first attracted you to native Australian ingredients?
At first, it was very simple. I began working at restaurants that used a little lemon myrtle and wattleseed, but it wasn’t until I was working at Restaurant Amuse that I really started to explore what else was out there. It was at this point that I became fascinated with native ingredients and wondered why they weren’t used more. It was a change in mindset and a real learning curve for me. The experience not only taught me about these incredible ingredients, but gave me the opportunity to learn so much more about Australian history and the incredibly rich culture we have here. And still, after 10 years, I have so much more to learn.
What’s the biggest challenge when it comes to cooking with native ingredients?
Not having a reference point. Up until a few years ago there wasn’t much information about these ingredients online; even books were limited. That’s why we try to spend as much time on country with Australia’s traditional owners as possible – to learn more about these foods, where they come from, and how to best handle and pay respect to them.
What’s one of the most interesting ingredients you’ve ever cooked with?
The honey ant is so incredible, you don’t really need to do anything to it; keeping it simple really highlights the ant. The bush banana is exciting to cook with too, as you can use the flesh, seeds, leaves, flowers and roots. You can eat it raw or cook it on coals, pickle it, ferment it, salt it… the processes are endless, and it tastes delicious!
What tips can you give the amateur native food enthusiast, on how to get started with native foods?
I encourage people to spend time on country and learn from the traditional owners. They hold the knowledge and have managed and taken care of the country for thousands of years – that’s a huge amount of time to learn and experiment with these foods. Aboriginal people truly are the experts. Also try to source your ingredients correctly. Not only do you need a permit to collect them, you also need permission from the traditional owners and need to ensure you take care of the environment. A good way to start experimenting with these flavours is by growing your own native garden.
What was it like working with writer Robert Wood and photographer Chris Gurney, who helped you create Fervor: A journey through Australian native food?
Robbie came to me with the initial idea for the book. I thought it was a great opportunity to share Fervor’s ideas, recipes and the knowledge and stories of the people we have had the pleasure of meeting along our journey. Robbie and Chris are incredible to work with – they are both extremely talented in their field and really guided me through the process (and were very patient). I am very honoured and fortunate to have worked with these two very creative and passionate people.
Tags: Fervor; bush tucker; native ingredients; cookbook; cookin; bushfood