Jock Zonfrillo of Adelaide restaurant Orana has won this year's Basque Culinary World Prize out of a field that included Peruvian chef Virgilio Martínez, Marc Puig-Pey of El Bulli fame and Norway's Heidi Bjerkan. The prize of €100,000 acknowledges chefs who work for positive change beyond their kitchens through projects involving research, entrepreneurship, education and more.
"It was so amazing to be amongst those nine other finalists who are, many of them, friends and also people I admire very much," Zonfrillo says. "Just being a finalist I was a winner."
Zonfrillo's restaurant Orana, which opened in 2013, has been at the forefront of the renewed interest in Australia's Indigenous culinary history, taking home GT's Restaurant of the Year award in August 2017 for not only its menu that features hundreds of native ingredients each year, but also for the work of the Orana Foundation. The Foundation promotes Australia's first peoples and their knowledge of the land through research with the University of Adelaide which will eventually result in an online native-food database and economic development initiatives that benefit Indigenous communities.
Chair of the Prize Jury, Spanish chef Joan Roca, acknowledged the 15-plus years Zonfrillo has spent learning about Australia's Indigenous communities and foodways since emigrating from Scotland in 2000.
"Through the identification of ingredients and traditions and his commitment to transforming the knowledge of these people into development opportunities, Zonfrillo sows the seeds for a better future," he said. "His work is inspiring and has a multiplier effect."
Zonfrillo says he'll be discussing how to use the prize money with his team at the Orana Foundation, considering all their current projects and looking for one that will both benefit Indigenous communities and have a lasting effect.
Among the nine finalists for this year's Basque Culinary World Prize were chefs leading social enterprises, such as Ebru Baybara Demir and her Harran Gastronomy School which employs and trains Syrian and Turkish women in the border regions of Turkey, others championing zero-waste practices, and those working to create employment opportunities for marginalised groups or make restricted diets both healthier and tastier.
The prize, established in 2016 by the Basque Culinary Centre and the Basque Government, is awarded by a jury which this year included the likes of Massimo Bottura, Dominique Crenn, Ruth Reichl and Yoshihiro Narisawa. Previous winners are Colombian chef Leonor Espinosa for her profiling of the knowledge of indigenous and Afro-Colombian peoples through the Funleo Foundation and Maria Fernanda Di Giacobbe, a champion of fair-trade and gender equality in Venezuela's cacao industry.
"Global awards like these are very significant," Zonfrillo says. "Certainly at times like this it's a little reminder that the work we're doing in the Foundation is very important and worthy of global attention."