If you don’t know much about Australia, you may assume our local cuisine is a strange conglomerate of our most famous exports – lamingtons and meat pies, for example.
Paul Iskov, head chef and owner of Western Australian pop-up restaurant Fervor is working hard to replace that stereotype with a different idea: one that places the country’s stunning bounty of native ingredients firmly at the fore.
“In the nineties, there were quite a few native ingredients used in restaurants, but I think they were misunderstood and that the public wasn’t totally ready for them,” Iskov tells SBS.
“Over the last five to eight years, they’ve crept back onto menus and they’re here to stay – it’s not just a trend that’s going to fade out.”
Since March 2013, the team behind Fervor have been putting Australian ingredients like marron, quandong, bush banana (ngamoorrwarding) and boab tuber on the map through their unique menus – often serving them to people who’ve been living alongside them for years without ever realising.
Fervor's philosophy is based wholeheartedly in regionalism. Iskov and his team study the food found in different parts of Western Australia and devise menus accordingly.
“We’ll try to head to each region when things are in season, so we might be in the wheat belt in spring when the quandongs start ripening, or we’ll head up north when the weather starts getting bad in the south-west.”
Fervor organised cultural tours or day trips with the locals in a particular area, cultivating strong relationships with traditional landowners who educate the team about how to optimise the ingredients the country offers them.
"Learning the stories about the significance of a certain tree or animal to Aboriginal people helps us to understand the ingredient, and makes us more respectful of it."
“It’s really important for us to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land,” Iskov says.
“Learning the stories about the significance of a certain tree or animal to Aboriginal people helps us to understand the ingredient, and makes us more respectful of it.”
“These ingredients have been around for thousands of years, so it’s about understanding them, learning how to cook them, not over complicating them and letting people know what their true flavour is.
How Fervor works as a pop-up
Fervor isn’t your conventional Mod Aus bricks-and-mortar restaurant.
As a pop-up, Fervor travels all over the west side of the country, chasing abundant, in-season ingredients and shining a light on beautiful but lesser-known Western Australian locales.
More often than not, dining at Fervor is an al-fresco experience, set against a backdrop of a cavernous gorge or a swift-moving river – it’s all part of the package. Last year, Iskov and his team took Fervor on a three month “north trip” to Kakadu National Park, where they worked with traditional landowners to dig up bucketfuls of tubers.
If you find yourself in Western Australia, Iskov recommends tracking down some marron, a particularly famous breed of crayfish popular in Margaret River where Fervor is based. “It’s endemic to the South West,” he says.
“But it’s sought after all over the world.”
Fervor chars marron over charcoal or steams it inside paperbark. The team collects water from the ocean and reduces it down by half, then they dry it out for two to three months to create their own sea salt. Then they make an emulsion with native lemongrass “so it’s just three things on the plate,” he says.
"These ingredients have been around for thousands of years, so it’s about understanding them, learning how to cook them, not over complicating them."
“Logistically [popping up] is extremely tough, but we really enjoy travelling, seeing different locations and meeting different people,” says Iskov.
“And the ingredients are so different everywhere we go. If we do a pop up in Albany compared to Mukinbudin, it’s totally different. Once you’re up in Fitzroy Crossing it’s all new again, so we’re constantly learning in every location we go to. It’s very rewarding.
Of course, life on the road isn’t always glamorous, and the pop-up format lends itself to a level of stress that those operating a restaurant with a roof may never experience. “We’re constantly checking the weather,” Iskov says.
“A couple of years ago in Broome, the day before we were due to serve dinner on the beach for dinner, it rained so hard the town flooded. At one point the water level was knee high.”
Although there have been what Iskov calls “testing times,” it’s a lifestyle he says he wouldn’t swap for anything – not even a permanent location.
For him, it’s about showcasing the best Australia has to offer, and investigating the connections between people, places and food.
Don’t know your bush tucker? Check out this handy glossary.
This week, Peter cooks with Fervor's Executive Chef, Paul "Yoda" Oskov on Peter Kuruvita's Coastal Kitchen 8pm, Thursdays on SBS and then you can catch-up on SBS On Demand. Visit the program page for recipes, videos and more.