As the relationship between food systems and the environment increasingly dominates culinary discourse, plant-based and farm-to-table restaurants continue to gain popularity in Australia and beyond. But who are the trailblazers paving the way towards progressively more sustainable, zero-waste-focused, native ingredients-rich dining experiences? Naturally, it’s the passionate Australian chefs tirelessly working behind the scenes to ensure a culinary future for the country – and the world – that is healthy for both people and planet.
From a Kamilaroi chef with a masterful knowledge of local ingredients such as lemon myrtle, to an abalone-diving, beachfront-grilling chef with a zest for forage cooking, we’ve rounded up eight of the most inspiring and innovative Australian chefs leading the way in sustainability.
The concept of nose-to-tail – using the entire animal – has been prevalent in the culinary world for centuries, but it wasn’t until Josh Niland entered the seafood scene that the fin-to-scale movement took centre stage. Using traditionally discarded fish parts as a springboard for culinary innovation at his restaurant, Saint Peter, Niland has created dishes such as his infamous fish eye chips and 20-day dry-aged Spanish mackerel. To further improve the restaurant’s sustainability, the chef also focuses on exclusively using Australian ingredients.
Where you’ll find them: Saint Peter
📍 362 Oxford Street, Paddington NSW 2021
Aunty Beryl Van-Oploo
‘Chef’ is only one of Aunty Beryl Van-Oploo’s many titles. Kamilaroi woman, Indigenous elder, educator, mentor, and leader are all roles Van-Oploo has played – and continues to play – in her more than fifty-year culinary career. A master of Australian native ingredients, Van-Oploo has taught renowned chefs such as Noma’s René Redzepi and Lucky Kwong’s Kylie Kwong how to use lemon myrtle, wattle seed, and kangaroo – ingredients that are essential to indigenous cooking, but widely misunderstood.
Where you’ll find them: Biri Biri Aboriginal Cafe/Catering
📍 137 Redfern Street, Redfern NSW 2016
An acclaimed chef, restauranteur, and television presenter, Kylie Kwong is a relentlessly passionate advocate for sustainable cooking and ethical eating. Her Sydney restaurant, Lucky Kwong, exemplifies the chef’s commitment to sustainability by serving a menu that champions locally harvested produce and honours the Australian farmers who grew it. Simplicity, community, and sustainability are at the core of Kwong’s culinary philosophy, and are attributes that surface in all of the chef’s endeavours – from opening Lucky Kwong to serving as a correspondent for PARABERE Forum, a global summit empowering women in hospitality.
Where you’ll find them: Lucky Kwong
📍 2 Locomotive Street, Eveleigh NSW 2015
With accolades such as 2019 West Australian Good Food Guide Chef of the Year, Melissa Palinkas is well-loved not only for her inventive and awe-inspiring culinary creations, but also for her ‘waste not, want not’ approach to cooking. Trimmings from vegetables and meats are used to make stock for soups and fruit rinds are saved for homemade cordials. Furthermore, both of her restaurants are dominated by a plastic-free mindset – single-use plastics are almost entirely eliminated.
📍 48 George Street, East Fremantle WA 6158 – Young George Bar
📍 88 George Street, East Fremantle WA 6158 – Ethos Deli + Dining Room
From scaling seaside cliffs in search of seaweed to jumping off coastal rocks in Tasmania for an abalone dive, Analiese Gregory goes to great lengths – and depths – to sustainably source Australian ingredients. After entering the London food scene at the young age of 16 and working under award-winning chefs at iconic restaurants such as The Ledbury and Quay, Gregory traded plating in restaurant kitchens for hunting in the Tasmanian wilderness, and eventually wrote a cookbook, How Wild Things Are, for others seeking more adventurous culinary pursuits.
Where you’ll find them: foraging in the Tasmanian wilderness. You can buy her book How Wild Things Are here.
No rubbish bins. No takeaway coffee. No single-use this or that. Chef Matt Stone doesn’t just espouse ‘zero-waste’, he lives it. According to Stone, the industrial food system to which society conventionally subscribes, that thrives off food and material waste, is one of the most destructive systems humans have created (Concrete Playground). That’s why Stone has dedicated his culinary career to teaching others how to manage a zero-waste kitchen, which is exactly how he runs his restaurants.
📍 33 Byron Street, Bangalow NSW 2479 – Ciao, Mate!
📍 37—39 Byron Street, Bangalow NSW 2479 – You Beauty
📍 441 Eltham Road, Eltham NSW 2480 – The Eltham
He may have grown up on a farm in New Zealand, but Ben Shewry’s immense impact on Melbourne’s food scene with his sustainable seafood restaurant, Attica, has rightfully earned him a spot on our list of Australia’s pioneering eco-minded chefs. Ranking on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list and Elite Traveler’s Top 100 Restaurants list, Attica is known for its dedication to using native Australian ingredients such as saltbush and pine nuts – embodying Shewry’s respect for the land learned early on in his farming childhood.
Where you’ll find them: Attica
📍 74 Glen Eira Road, Ripponlea VIC 3185
The opening of Brae in 2013 cemented chef Dan Hunter’s commitment to sustainable and seasonal cooking. Nestled in Victoria’s Otways in Birregurra, Brae is set on a 30-acre working farm that produces the ingredients used at the restaurant. Chickens, a vegetable garden, a fruit orchard, and several indigenous Australian ingredients are all grown, harvested, prepared, and plated on site for a truly farm-to-table dining experience that is nothing short of superb, as evidenced by the restaurant’s regular ranking on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
Where you’ll find them: Brae
📍 4285 Cape Otway Road, Birregurra VIC 3242
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