To nab some of Jock Zonfrillo‘s time now moreover any other time of the year is an opportunity not to be taken for granted.
Not only has his always popular Adelaide CBD establishment Street ADL been catering to the masses in town for the Adelaide Fringe and Adelaide Festival of the Arts (not to mention their pop up food stall at the Royal Croquet Club at Victoria Square), but the Rundle St property has seen an overhaul this week. In place of Street ADL, Zonfrillo’s latest addition to his ever expanding restaurant business, Blackwood, officially opened on Tuesday night. Offering patrons a dining experience akin to Zonfrillo’s high end flagship restaurant Orana, Blackwood stands apart by instead presenting Orana’s techniques and ingredients in a bistro setting.
Couple the new restaurant with the relocation of Street out to Henley Beach and the introduction of Nonna Mallozzi, a food truck to be introduced to foodies in Adelaide through 2016… Zonfrillo is a busy, busy man.
Sitting down at Blackwood on a hot Adelaide afternoon, the famed Scottish chef shows no signs of weariness except a few yawns, as he comments on the restaurant’s opening week so far.
“With any business we have,” he explains. “We don’t open to massive fanfare, we open the doors to just a few customers, it lets the guys find their feet a little bit. Last night though we were pretty busy, tonight we’ll probably be busy and on the weekend we’re almost fully booked – it’s going to be a busy weekend, for sure. It’s fantastic.”
“This [menu] is less than half the price of upstairs,” he explains. “The flavours and the philosophies are the same. We understand that not everyone can afford to eat at Orana, I know that. I’m unashamed about it. We don’t make any money upstairs, so in reality, we should be charging more money than we do upstairs. We don’t, because we still want people to come. We don’t want it to be the unaffordable restaurant that no one can afford to eat at, it doesn’t make any sense. At the same time, it was important for us to demonstrate a lot of these ingredients and a lot of these recipes, the stuff we’d come up with, at a level where it was more in that bistro price point.”
This month, the Street team is adding another commitment to their plate, as their popular Street in the Park restaurant comes to WOMADelaide after a hugely successful debut at the festival in 2015. As part of WOMAD’s Taste the World program, the outdoor dining experience offers WOMAD-goers the opportunity to dine amongst the music and outdoor festival happenings, with a menu representing seven countries and cuisines for every day of the festival. An ambitious undertaking when it was debuted last year, Street in the Park sold out ridiculously quickly, leaving people lined up outside the gates hoping to get a seat in the exclusive set up.
“They asked us to make it bigger because it sold out so quickly.” Zonfrillo says of this year’s project, which he says is approximately double the size of the original set up. “There were epic queues outside with people hoping to try and get a table. We just thought, ‘Of course we can make it bigger,’ It’s a park, we’ll just make it bigger! I did it by demand and by what fits in with WOMAD as a model and for us, the act of being part of that festival is quite humbling. To be asked and then to be asked back again on the back of such a huge success as it was last year; people loved it, it was fantastic.”
“At the time,” he remembers. “I was thinking, ‘Let’s pick the cultures that the artists are from each day and we’ll just do seven dishes from seven different countries every day.’ Then we started doing the menus and it was like, ‘This is really hard!’ because it’s 28 different dishes from 28 different cultures and countries, all in four days. Once one day is finished, it’s done. You roll into the new day and you’ve got to make an entire new menu for hundreds and hundreds of people. It’s not easy, it’s really not. For us, it was a great challenge, because the guys get to have a look at cuisines that we normally wouldn’t even look at.”
When it comes to deliberating what cuisine the team will be focusing on each day and how those traditional recipes will be represented in the contemporary way the Orana/Street brand has become synonymous with, Zonfrillo describes the all-in, team dynamic that comes into play.
“We all sit down together and have a look at the country, have a look at the culture and what are some traditional recipes and traditional dishes, then we talk about what we might like to do.” he says. “It’s based around what we fancy cooking, really. Our only boundaries are to provide three entrées, two mains and two desserts available every day.”
“We made it easier for people this year as well.” he says of this year’s WOMAD menu. “Nobody came in and had [just] one dish last year, it just didn’t happen. We’ve given them better value by saying, ‘Okay here’s two courses for $55 or here’s three courses for $75,’ or something like that. It’s easier for people to come in and have an entrée/main or a main/dessert. It’s all really exciting. I couldn’t pick one [dish] over any of them, to be honest. I’m looking forward to the berebere, which is from Ethiopia, that spice mix. I really love that; it was one of the things we did in Nomad Chef when I was in Ethiopia and I brought that back. It was so unique and different, that’s really cool.”
“The prices are fucking mad, to be honest with you,” Zonfrillo says about the inflation of general festival food prices. “To be able to come into a restaurant and sit down for fifty-odd dollars with glassware and plates and cutlery, with people serving you…you can just chill out for an hour or two, not sitting down in the grass with the ants, it’s a good thing! It represents amazing value for money for what you get.”
It’s a huge undertaking this year, undeniably so, but it’s one Zonfrillo approaches with excitement and anticipation, especially when it comes to the team of chefs and staff members he has onboard to ensure everything rolls out as it should.
“It’s an incredible experience for the team,” he enthuses. “They’re all involved in the start of the process, if you like, and then they follow it through to the actual service. They get to do it from the beginning to end and for them, it’s fantastic. It’s a very different thing; as far as a team exercise, it’s fantastic. They’re really good.”
“We’ve shut upstairs deliberately at this time of year,” he says. “It’s [time of year] fun, right? WOMAD’s a great festival, first of all, so all of our staff want to go to WOMAD anyway! We just thought, ‘Right, we’ll close Orana on the Friday and Saturday and we’ll just go and do it together’. We did it obviously last year for the first time and it was just fantastic; it was great for the staff to do a project like that together, it was really cool.”
Not only will the Orana and Street team be on site at WOMAD for the entire run of the festival ensuring the hungry get their high quality dishes, but Zonfrillo reveals that they’re also going to be providing catering services backstage for the artists this year as well as adding new food truck venture, Nonna Mallozzi, to their presence in Botanic Park during WOMAD weekend.
“I’ve got people who help me organise the business from accountants to management etc,” Zonfrillo says, reclining back in his chair. “When we had a meeting prior to all of this, pre-Fringe, I said, ‘We’re going to move Street to Henley Beach and we’re going to open up Blackwood downstairs. We’re going to roll out the food truck, we’re doing the Taste The World restaurant and it’s double the size it was last year and we’re doing the backstage restaurant for the artists and the food truck’s going to be in there…’ Everyone was like, ‘What?!’ But, this is the time of year where you’re gonna do it. We’ve got an influx of staff, we have more staff than we do at any other time of the year, so we’re able to do more and keep it under control because we’ve got a volume of staff that we’ve been training to get ready.”
While WOMAD, Blackwood, Nonna Mallozzi and Street are keeping Zonfrillo busy and stretched out across the industry on a local Adelaide level, the chef remains cool and focused when it comes to noting his priorities for the next few months. Nonna Mallozzi in particular, is a venture he and his team are keen to get the jump on.
“We’ve got a bit of work to do in Henley to the site,” he mentions. “There’s a few things I need to do to the site before it can open, so my expectation is we probably won’t open until April, by the time I do the work I want. I’m really excited for Street in Henley Beach – that’s such a good thing. It’s fantastic for the brand, it’s good to have something down there. I’m really looking forward to it.”
“We’ve gotten a food truck license,” he adds. “So we want to get involved in Fork in the Road and all the sort of stuff. It’s Italian, so there’s only going to be two pastas, two panini, a coffee machine and eventually, there’ll be gelato coming out of there as well. It’s simple; again, there’s no point in offering 35 things, what’s the point? We do a small selection and we do it really fucking well.”
Although his self-confidence comes across as naturally as his charm, Zonfrillo is upfront about acknowledging the integral part his staff and team play in the success of all facets of the business. The growth of the proprietor’s business is reliant on this family working together as well as they do across all areas, something the chef doesn’t take for granted at all.
“It’s tough,” he admits of trying to strike a balance between all his commitments. “But you’ve just got to keep going. I have an amazing team and I couldn’t do what we do without them. I’ve got a core management team who have been with me for six years, I couldn’t do it without my team. Couldn’t do it. They’re all dedicated to the cause of what we’re doing, all the way from the [Orana] Foundation through to a burger at Street. Everybody gets that it’s different; it’s not just a business, you know? I’m not driving around in a Ferrari, you know? If we do make any money, it just goes right back into the business and that’s important. It just wouldn’t be possible without the team.”
So while the plans for Zonfrillo’s South Australian businesses are being developed and followed through on once WOMAD wraps up for another year, including those for the Orana Foundation – a non-for-profit entity seeing Zonfrillo and his team work with Indigenous communities in cultivating natural produce, bringing ingredients into the general market and providing opportunities for the communities to be given back to – this doesn’t mean the man himself will be able to enjoy much time off.
“There is a lot landing over the next few months that is going to keep me here,” he says. “We’ve got a couple of big projects happening with the Foundation around [July]. We’ve got a second series of Nomad Chef to film; they’re desperate to start filming like, next week, if they could! I’m like, ‘I don’t have time!’, so I’m pushing back on that, probably until July.”
“I’m going to Chile in April to talk over there about what we do here,” Zonfrillo adds. “We’ve been invited over to a conference to talk about what we’re doing. We’re going into the Atacama Desert to spend some time with the native people there, so that will be cool. That’s in the beginning of April and then in June, I’ve been asked to go speak at the University of Gastronomy in Milan and I’m doing a dinner in the Bulgari Hotel as well. It’s going to be another busy year, but we’ve just got to get on with it!”
As he sits opposite in his newly re-furnished Rundle St digs , donned in crisp chef whites and an apron primed for another service, running through his international plans still to come, you get the inclination that Zonfrillo is just running with whatever comes next.
“You get used to it,” he agrees. “It’s a lot of hotels, a lot of airplanes and airport lounges, but it’s not so bad.”
Secure a table at WOMAD’s Street in the Park restaurant (March 11th – March 14th) by visiting the WOMAD website or calling 0474 784 077. Note that you’ll need to have a WOMADelaide Festival pass on the day of the booking to be able to dine at the restaurant.
Jock Zonfrillo will also be part of Monday’s Taste the World program, delivering a demonstration at Speaker’s Corner from 5pm. Head here for more information!