an interview with Chef Clayton Donovan, more power to the native culinary traditions

an interview with Chef Clayton Donovan
I got an opportunity to interview Chef Clayton Donovan, Australia's highest acclaimed Indigenous cuisines Chef who had come to Australian high commission as part of the Australian indigenous creativity showcase. Chef Clayton Donovan received the Chef's hat from the Australian Good Food Guide in 2011 for his unique and contemporary take on indigenous cuisine and ingredients.

As I myself work a lot on native Indian foods and wild uncultivated foods from our land, it was a great experience talking to a chef who cooks and promotes indigenous foods professionally. Chef Clayton is a Passionate cook who believes in promoting organic ways of growing food and foraging as much as possible. He told me he was lured by his aunt at a very early age to find and forage edible plants from the backyard, he credits his aunt for encouraging a bored child to explore nature in much meaningful ways. Do parents get the hint?

He had brought a few herb blends and spice rubs with him and those were used to cook some wonderful dishes for the dinner later. We talked about how we must take care while promoting wild foods as super foods, because this gives way to either the wild food becoming a commodity or become endangered. Chef Clayton told me he keeps organizing meals in fields around local farms and these meal experiences are getting popular and that shows people are becoming more aware about where their food comes from and they want to see and experience their food at source.

Knowing that Chef was indoctrinated into foraging herbs and greens from his very own backyard, I asked him how we can motivate young children to value real food and stay away from the processed food. He told me his own kids are always excited about organic and indigenous food workshops he keeps doing and this is one of the best ways to keep children and adults into the habit of eating real foods.

After my experience with the Amaranth farmers of the Uttarakhand Mountains I am always a bit skeptical about making indigenous foods fashionable (read super foods) for the urban populations. Hence my questions were more directed towards how we can bring back the ancient wisdom and yet make the wild and foraged foods sustainable. I could see Chef Clayton was also concerned about the same issues and said we should work on making sure someone or the other starts growing these foods on a larger scale or the foraging is done judiciously. 

Cultivating or harvesting the wild produce sustainably is possible only when the local communities value their own produce. They would make sure the native, indigenous foods are not lost to the market forces, once they know how important is to save natural habitats of such naturally available foods.

I asked him whether he believes in preserving and popularizing the indigenous and traditional recipes in their original form too. Chef told me he loves to give modern contemporary foods a touch of native cultures and flavours as capturing the imagination of the audience is as important as preserving the ancient wisdom. 

I agree. We need a multi pronged approach towards preserving the living wisdom we have in our indigenous cultures and everyone should be able to connect with it in whatever possible way, as long as sustainability is not compromised.

Chef Clayton has been working to preserve the indigenous culture in various ways. He is even working on a dictionary of indigenous languages. He loves enjoying the country life whenever possible and loves surfing and skateboarding in his native beach town. The several tattoos on his arms indicate his life events as he told, he wears a Chef’s apron with a tribal motif like a true mascot of indigenous cultures. 
an interview with Chef Clayton Donovan

Later at dinner time we enjoyed food prepared by The Park Hotel team. The herbs and spice rubs brought by Chef Clayton were used in simple yet flavorful ways. The Lamb with Native Mint rub, River Sole with Lemon Myrtle and Macadamia oil, Chicken breast with Australian bbq rub and Thyme were quite flavourful. Plum prawns sautéed with Mountain pepper and Anisata Myrtle was quite interesting. 

an interview with Chef Clayton Donovan

I was expecting a full fledged indigenous cuisine menu but having a glimpse of the native herbs was also a good experience.

Chef Clayton loves using the New Zealand spinach or Warrigal greens. The Mountain pepper is a leafy green that packs a punch. I got to smell and taste some of these herbs. I think it is a great idea to use the indigenous herbs in really innovative ways so that one gets the medicinal benefits too. 

Imagine if we start using our Wood Sorrel  as a rub for meats or to make a chutney how it will help us getting a beneficial herb right into our gardens. Wood Sorrel grows wild, doesn't need any resources to grow and can be a good alternative to exotic salad greens that we buy from the supermarket. Wood Sorrel is a good meat tenderizer and gives a slight tartness to the curries or grilled meats.  

Have you started looking for indigenous herbs in your backyard?


  1. So I remembered after today's evebt that you had mentioned about you amaranth story here also.... clicked the link and read it...
    It sounds similar to the quinoa story where the hype has made the humble quinoa inaccesible to south americans....
    I think there is a collective responsibility here... and not just as a consumer... ofcourse a big responsibility falls on the consumer, not to be taken in to fads and know what is what....however, the bigger question is... what makes something a fad?? Is it the celebrity nutritionist promoting the same, the mainstream brands jumping in the fray and making healthier versions of it n marketing it (like there was this muesli fad sometime ago) or is the responsibility of food regulatory bodies, our federal state which should regulate and protect against such fads and ensure there is no exploitation....
    I believe each one has a responsibility... and ofcourse it is easier said than done... to try to work all the various stakeholders to do what is right rather than what is 'marketable' in todays time n age...

  2. Yes. Each one of us should feel the responsibility an be open to see where we went wrong. We just can't push away the responsibilities to some other agency that should come and work towards an issue. The Amaranth story I have shared many times since I experienced, I was aghast to the response from the audience when someone said we must respect their freedom of choice, I think we are indirectly already influencing their choices.
    Also, when we say the villages should get all the 'facilities' like cities we are speaking from a pedestal we consider higher and I find that though quite twisted. After all the 'heaven' that we consider the village (or hillside)is so because it is not a city :-) why we want to make it like a city? How do we conclude they are unhappy without malls and multicuisine restaurants? They must get the basic facilities but they also must realise what heaven they are actually living in. That is my point. They shouldn't aspire to come to the clogging roads of the city.

    1. Interesting point of view sangeeta and one which i agree as a development professional... once i was in a rather hot discussion with a colleague who did not want to understand the regulatory clearances i was trying to explain to him on a project and gave a statement that this is all anti-development...
      I was amused and livid at the same time... i said what do you mean by 'development' sir?? Do you mean development is inhaling noxious fumes everyday or eating pesticide laden food or travelling for 4 hours on a jam packed road in a fancy car?? All of which we developed individuals are doing each day....
      Standard criteria of well being and development cannot be applied on a rural setting as we do in urban setting and to say everybody aspires to have a urban way of life is a very narrow minded way of looking at life and i do think that is the most incorrect way of 'sustainable' or inclusive growth...

    2. Yes. I wish you had seen this viewpoint yesterday when I was talking. Our individual responsibility should also be as defined as the responsibility of the state. The state can't do anything to make the city people a little sober and a little more sensible :-)


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