Foraging was never a trend for Elijah Holland – hospitality
Elijah Holland’s name is perhaps most recognizable from his time as Noma Australia’s chief forager, which saw Rene Redzepi hunt the chief to search for local gems for the pop-up. The role undoubtedly cemented Holland’s name in the culinary world, and it’s been a rapid rise ever since. He’s opened restaurants across China, scoured jungles and mountains for local ingredients, and is now spearheading a new concept influenced by his historic surroundings in Melbourne.
Holland talks to Hospitality about his time working in China, why foraging has never been a passing trend for him, and pays homage to provenance on the plate. 2016 was a big year for Elijah Holland. It not only saw the chef working alongside one of the world’s most acclaimed culinary figures (René Redzepi), but marked the start of a new chapter – a move to China, in this case.
Holland has been offered a job as executive chef at The Locksmith, an Australian-influenced restaurant in Foshan Lingnan Tiandi in Guangdong province. The project has been supported by partners, including the owner of the gourmet restaurant Lûmé in Melbourne. “I had never been to China before and I like a good challenge,” says Holland. “I opened The Locksmith, which was a three-level place, and I was there for a year and a half.”
It’s easy to understand the appeal of moving to a new country for a chef like Holland. China’s diverse food landscape has given Holland endless opportunities to discover and work with ingredients he’s never seen before. “I did a lot of foraging and we used a lot of wild food,” says the chef. “We made donkey prosciutto, camel and goose salami, and goat ham.”
Holland then joined the Oysterlicious group and opened nine restaurants across the country, from Beijing and Shanghai to southern China, with the chef learning Mandarin along the way. He also ran the experiential fine-dining restaurant Botanik, which was booked four months in advance at its peak. “We made between 16 and 24 dishes and seated 20 diners at a time,” he says. “The menu used products from all over China, from salts to oils and chocolate. Everything was cooked on a wood-fired oven, an open hearth or a mechanical charcoal grill.
The chef’s discovery of local produce has been constant during his time in the country, with foraging trips and growers offering insight into the breadth of indigenous Chinese ingredients. “I was getting fresh goji berries the size of raspberries and wild Yunnan honey that came in a bag on a stick with bees still in it,” says Holland (who opened the honeycomb to let the bees go). bees).
“I used to make my own chocolate from Hainan cocoa pods and order sprouting coconuts. The local food scene is amazing. I had some of the best meals in remote towns and villages and explored the jungles and different areas all over China, but I missed Australia so decided to come back.
The chef returned to Melbourne after three years abroad and took a much-needed break, which saw him diving, surfing and four-wheeling too. “I met different people and I was offered to take over Lûmé in January 2020,” explains Holland.
Not one to shy away from an obstacle or two, the chef has completely changed the gourmet restaurant. “I changed the whole menu and the team in a month,” he says. “There were two 12-14 course menus, one of which was a plant-based vegan version.”
After spending time in Lûmé earlier this year, Holland was ready for a new challenge: running a new restaurant. The chef was approached by Sweet & Chilli managing director Cameron Northway to lead the culinary offering at LOTI (Lady of the Ice) in St Kilda. “He had an idea and a vision, and we basically worked together to make it happen,” says the chef. “We are right on the coast so the food is European inspired and based on the idea of ’Mediterranean made in Melbourne’.”
Putting local ingredients first is an integral part of most restaurants, but Holland and the LOTI team take a hands-on approach to the notion. The chef grew up looking for food and it has remained central to his culinary philosophy, as seen on the whiteboard found in the kitchen. The platter is divided into seafood, dairy, dry goods, vegetables, meat and food – which has by far the longest list of ingredients.
It’s safe to say that the search for food is constant and not short-lived for the chef. “It’s one of those things where it’s become a trend and some people may have found salt bushes or nasturtiums and called it foraging,” he says. “But I think they realized it was a lot of work to see it, know it and understand it. It’s easy to choose the wrong things and it takes dedication to keep doing it. It’s always something I’ve been in and around.
The LOTI team ventures out of the kitchen at least twice a week, traveling from Victoria to Phillip Island, the Yarra Valley, the Snowy Mountains, Portland and beyond. Holland says the restaurant collects about 40 ingredients to use on the menu, including coastal daisy, cabbage flowers, beach mustard, sea parsley, sea lettuce, kelp, native mint bush, mountain pepper “and the list goes on – it’s just a small amount”.
Travel is an exercise in education and good management — basically, it’s a win-win for everyone. Chefs can look beyond four walls for inspiration and try ingredients that aren’t readily available, let alone on sale. “There are a lot of ingredients they’re seeing for the first time,” Holland says.
“I organize foraging trips for us as well as other activities such as spearfishing or visiting farms. It’s important to make sure we’re learning and doing new things. I don’t want them to say to themselves: “I have to go to work” and it’s a duty. If we can make it more fun, it’s better for staff retention and there’s more interest from the team.
When country is your pantry, the limits are endless when it comes to creating dishes. LOTI’s menu is divided into starters, sharing plates, mains, sides and desserts, but each course is linked by an overall theme. “The menu incorporates wild ingredients in a way that’s accessible and easy for people to understand,” says Holland.
“Everything on the menu is sourced from Australia and primarily Victoria, so really encompassing produce from the coast and surrounding areas. I draw inspiration from nature. When you’re there, he tells you how to put things together. He makes sense to put turbot with coastal plants or seaweed For me it’s about constantly doing different takes of ingredients where people go, ‘F**k, it’s delicious – I can eat so much of it ‘.
The plates are not only local ingredients, but pay homage to the historical roots of St. Moritz where the restaurant is located, which was known for its ice rink. A red emperor ceviche is paired with native citrus fruits and hand-picked olives from the Pyrenees. “He comes out with an icy disc that you crack and it’s a fun game on the rink,” says Holland, who also points to a “cornetto” stuffed with smoked yellowfin mousse and yellowfin tuna mojama as one of the most popular bites so far.
Most plates are designed to be shared, with larger options of BBQ turbot ribs with sea parsley, grilled lettuce and capers, plus barley-fed beef with salsify horseradish which turns out to be a success. Dishes will also transform based on the availability of ingredients, with the kitchen pledging to use the best of the best.
“We change the oysters daily or weekly and we exchange plants or proteins according to the seasons. I’m about to launch Australian Fruit Serving with different fruits from across the country served in pure forms. We could take the fruit out and turn it into a sorbet or jelly or serve it raw slathered with kombucha or a fruit paste.
LOTI has been open for just over two months now, and the team have come together to create something special. “We’re fresh like,” Holland says, “but one of the best things is the team. quality of our collaboration.