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Five Minutes with James Viles

Chef James Viles takes us through his top tips for embracing this season's biggest trend - foraging and shares his wisdom on getting the most out of native ingredients.

Five Minutes with James Viles

The resurgence of native ingredients and native cuisine was a key food trend discussed by high-profile chefs including James Viles (Biota Dining), Mark Best (Marque) and Darren Robertson (Three Blue Ducks) at the recent Taste of Sydney festival in partnership with Electrolux.

Foraging and old-fashioned methods such as preserving and pickling are being widely used in professional kitchens. As climate change and other environmental factors are changing the way we access certain foods, more chefs and culinary experts are spearheading a resurgence of native cuisine – a movement that prides itself on celebrating the incredible ingredients so often overlooked by cooks and chefs alike and championing a focus on sustainability.

Owner and chef of Biota Dining, James Viles has been widely commended for his sustainable approach and commitment to using native, Australian ingredients in the industry. Biota means “animals and plant life of a particular region”. As the name suggests, Viles always knew he wanted to work close to nature. As such, his food is driven by seasonal produce and meticulous techniques that celebrate and showcase the surrounding nature.

Here, James offers an insight into how to get the most of our native ingredients and the art of foraging in the 21st century:

What produce are you currently growing in your kitchen garden for autumn/winter?

We currently have four varieties of thyme, begonias, brussel sprouts, kale, nasturtiums, garlic, onions and pencil leeks.

Do you have any tips on growing your own native produce?

Stick to small shrubs and do your research about the types of plants for your environment and plant accordingly

Where can these ingredients be best used?

I like them used across a broad range of things like pastry and salads etc. Even in sauce reductions and ice creams.

What native ingredients/produce are you most looking forward to cooking with this season?

I have just spent time in the Northern Territory, where we are working with native orchards, green ants, pandanus nuts and white beech figs.

What cooking techniques and methods work best with these ingredients?

Depending on the ingredient and the stage it’s at in terms of ripening, many different applications can be used. Pickling and preserving them is cool because they change dramatically. I also really enjoy slow cooking, which is great as we come into autumn, particularly with vegetables, fruits and meats. Quince is good for slow cooking and you can achieve this at home by slow cooking in a pot over an induction cooktop. With precise temperature control, you can achieve more consistent and quality results.  

Do you have any tips for foraging in Australia? Are there any dos and don’ts?

Do your research, go with somebody of note that knows the area and most importantly, have a plan for things before you take them from Mother Nature.

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