Modern-day hunter gatherer Elijah Holland takes his restaurant crew on wild food missions into Victoria’s countryside and beaches several times a week
“There’s wild food everywhere,” says Elijah, who at 30 has already built an impressive cooking career on foraging at NOMA Australia, Aria, Quay and Lume, along with four years managing a major restaurant group in China where he won multiple awards and accolades.
“We go out as a team at least twice a week and forage all over Victoria. It’s part of the weekly shifts of the restaurant. We’re heading to the Yarra Ranges tomorrow, and we’ll stop off at a winery and make a fun day of it. Other days, we’ll spend an hour and half down the beach in St Kilda foraging before our shift.
“Just being out there is one of the most incredible parts of cooking.
“And it’s important for us as chefs to know and understand where your food comes from… how it’s not always there. Some days will be great. Other days, your harvest might be smashed by weather or bugs. And the birds are always beating you to the native white currants.”
Elijah is a relative newcomer to Victoria, arriving in the city in December 2019 to cook at Lume, a celebrated fine diner in South Melbourne. Just a few months later, the pandemic hit.
“Even when we were in lockdown, we were busy doing takeaway meals and using a lot of wild foods, which helped with food costs and helped us keep staff on,” Elijah says.
“I also started a side business in lockdown – Ronin Kelp. It’s a wild bull kelp soy sauce which is gluten free, vegan and 96 per cent made in Victoria with wild garlic and peppercorn leaves.
“The flavour’s quite unique.”
Elijah moved on from Lume to open Loti in June this year on St Kilda’s iconic Esplanade. The restaurant anchors a soaring new apartment development on the site of the St Moritz ice rink. Loti is an acronym for Lady of the Ice.
Part fine diner, part all-day café, Loti’s fire-fuelled kitchen is designed to deliver leisurely feasts with views of the bay, or quick snacks before a show at the Palais Theatre up the road. The menu draws inspiration from the local coastline, with plenty of flame, smoke, curing and fermentation.
“I can walk down the street from Loti and find food down at the beach,” Elijah says. “And that’s what we want for the restaurant… local and wild ingredients cooked in a fun, approachable way.
“We want people to come in any day of the week and find something new.”
Elijah’s passion for foraging and cooking started as a young boy growing up in NSW’s Blue Mountains, where his parents often foraged for ingredients and his mother taught him how to bake, ferment and preserve food.
Since qualifying as a chef at 17, and taking his first head chef job at 21, Elijah spends almost every minute of spare time rummaging for wild foods and researching their provenance. If he’s ever unsure about a plant’s origin, he consults botanists before testing out the ingredients in his kitchen.
“You have to do your research,” Elijah says. “There are a lot of plants out there that can be slightly poisonous, even though they look similar to good ones. You need to be 100 per cent sure of what you’re touching.
“But foraging is a good thing. The more you cut, the more you promote growth and flowering, but it has to be in a sustainable way, to make sure things have a chance to grow back.
“There’s so much out there, and there’s plenty to go around.”