Fervour for flavour
Picture: Becky Felstead

Brother-and-sister team Paul and Bree Iskov have gone back to the land with indigenous foods in a fine-dining setting. We're talking about dune spinach, bunya nuts, lilli pilli and wattle seed on bespoke menus that let the flavours shine.

"We've just started using green tree ants - and we eat them straight up," Mr Iskov said. "They're incorporated into a very simple dish and used as a replacement for lime zest. We put them to sleep by freezing them very quickly and just use them as a garnish on the dish for a beautiful citrusy-limey burst.

"From what I know, the indigenous people used to boil them in water and drink them as a tea, or just ate them raw; they also have a honeypot ant which they would dig from the ground and eat the honey sac off the back."

Then there are witchetty grubs. Mr Iskov purees them with egg yolk - "it has a similar flavour" - and flattens the mixture into a sheet, then rolls it into a ball that's presented with fresh beach herbs and flowers. "This way it's not too confronting for guests," he said.

"There's such a wide variety of different plants, nuts, seeds and proteins out there. We recognise that the ingredients we incorporate were most likely used by the indigenous people from the South West for thousands of years and we hope, with the greatest respect, to bring that knowledge through in our dinners.

"Some of the products are harder to work with and there can be a lot of bitterness in the foods but that's part of the taste experience and we try not to alter it too much."

The Busselton-based pair have fine-tuned their taste for bush tucker into Fervor Foods and will showcase their skills with an eight-course degustation dinner at the IGA Taste Great Southern on March 29.

Ms Iskov, who has a hospitality background, lines up the venue for the meal depending on location and weather, and Mr Iskov, a chef, often works his magic in the spotlight at a long table so people can see how it's done. He spent five years "on and off" at Amuse with Hadleigh Troy and has done work experience at Noma, in Copenhagen, and at D.O.M, in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Many ingredients are foraged locally and native foods stockists supply the rest. "It's a matter of working with the seasons, the land and the weather," Ms Iskov said.

Like local slippery jacks. They're simply chargrilled over coals, then paired with other native ingredients to highlight their freshness. "We like to work with small, family businesses that have a passion for what they do and look for suppliers who have a similar ethos to us," Ms Iskov said. "Foraging is certainly coming into vogue and people get really excited about it but you have to be mindful of the ecosystem. You could wipe out a bird's food source if you take too much. We remove any rubbish that may be lying around and try to leave the place better than we found it. The idea is not to leave a trace that we've been there."

Seaweed is big on the menu - they have a marine biologist on hand - and marron is a staple protein choice because it's endemic to the South West. Mr Iskov fire roasts it and serves with a seaweed emulsion on a shell and a dash of salt made from evaporated Yallingup sea water that sometimes takes a couple of weeks to dry off.

"It's a very simple dish," Mr Iskov said. "People season it themselves and use their hands to run the marron through the emulsion." Menus are mainly plant based, though wallaby, kangaroo and occasionally oysters and shellfish are used.

Pudding? They're working on a pavlova using native berries and do a wildflower ice-cream. "We get the nectar out of it and infuse it," Mr Iskov said. "You end up with a slightly sweet honey sort of flavour.

"A couple of months ago we were using Christmas trees in full bloom, so it depends on what's available at the time. Obviously you have to be very careful in what you take - if you're gathering wildflowers and they're not on your property, or not on a private property, you need a licence."


Fervor Foods Pop-Up Dinner (expect to pay $140-$180) will be held on March 29 at a time and location to be advised, depending on weather. Enquiries on 0408 924 062 or 0450 973 813.

The West Australian

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