• Chef Clayton Donovan with native bush tomatoes, lemon myrtle leaves and pepper berries. (AAP, City of Sydney)
Clayton Donovan started leaning about native produce when he was just four years old growing up on Gumbaynggirr and Bundjalung land on the mid north coast of New South Wales. Now he shares that knowledge and love with the diners at his restaurant 'The Jaaning Tree' where he serves up contemporary cuisine with traditional flavours.
By
Karina Marlow

7 Oct 2016 - 3:24 PM  UPDATED 7 Oct 2016 - 3:26 PM

After realising that the law degree he was studying wasn't for him, Clayton Donovan enrolled himself in a commercial cooking course and has never looked back. Now after being awarded the Australian Good Food Guide Chef hat four years in a row, Clayton will be taking to the stage at the Homeground Festival to share his passion for Indigenous flavours with wider Australia. 

Clayton honed his cooking skills as a private chef on a catamaran in Sydney Harbour preparing food for the rich and famous including The Eurythmics and the LA Lakers. After developing his repertoire at The Watermark at Balmoral Beach and in Italian, seafood and fine dining cuisine, Clayton headed over to the UK where he rose up the ranks to head chef at a luxury hotel and restaurant. 

In 2008, Clayton returned home and opened his restaurant named the 'The Jaaning Tree', pronounced “jaa-nee”, the Gumbaynggir word for the Wattle tree. For centuries this tree has been a unique source of food for the local indigenous people. The new tree stems are rolled in the thick sweet sap that oozes from the bark to make “bush lollies”. As a child Clayton would sometimes hide in the jaaning tree in his parents back yard when he was naughty, but now he hides in his 'Jaaning Tree' kitchen. 

Clayton continues to cook at the restaurant and has broadened his business into catering and writing and presenting the 'Wild Kitchen' series for the ABC. 

When did your relationship with native foods begin?

When I was a young boy I used to go out with my mother, aunties and grandmother collecting in the bush, along the river and along the coast for food items such as oysters, pippis, beach strawberries and wild berries. 

Why is it so important to you to show off the very best of native cuisine?

We have some of the most unique culinary plants, seeds and produce which have many medicinal, nutritional and healing properties, as well as tasting really great! More people should have access to them and know how to use them in modern day cooking. 

When did you decide that it was time to open up your restaurant and catering business ‘The Jaaning Tree’ in Nambucca Heads?

When I returned to Australia from the UK my wife and I began looking for a location for our restaurant. We opened in November 2008 shortly after the birth of our daughter.

What is your favourite dish from your restaurant and why?

I enjoy creating new dishes and developing dishes over a period of time. Dishes are always changing and evolving so its hard to have a favourite. If its native and local I like it!

What can we look forward to from your cooking demo this weekend?

I always try and use products that can be easily sourced, prepared quickly and simply and that show case our native ingredients.

Clayton will be running a Cooking Demonstration at Homeground Festival at the Opera House on the 8th of October and has designed the Festival's official menu!