Meet Paul ‘Yoda’ Iskov, executive chef of Fervor and part of the Taste of Kakadu family.
This culinary Jedi master has worked in some of the world’s best kitchens, including Denmark’s Noma, four-time winner of the World’s Best Restaurant crown.
But Yoda’s true passions are Australia’s native produce and spectacular landscapes. Fervor lets him combine these passions by creating pop-up dining experiences in some of Australia’s most incredible locations.
We sat down with Yoda to get his thoughts on food, working with traditional owners and the Taste of Kakadu festival.
How did you get the nickname ‘Yoda’?
Because I’m wise and old. It’s got nothing to do with my big ears!
What inspired you to establish a roving, pop-up dining experience that uses locally-sourced sustainable native produce?
After returning from an around-the-world trip and working at some great restaurants that focused on using ingredients endemic to their region, I started to wonder why there wasn’t a bigger focus on Australian ingredients – after all, one of the oldest cultures on Earth has been living off it for 60,000 years.
I returned from my trip inspired and eager to learn, and a pop-up was the only way to test the waters. The idea was to focus on native Australian ingredients and dining in unique, natural settings – under the stars, on a salt lake, at the beach or in a forest.
Paul prepping for a meal in the great outdoors. Photo: Fervor
What are some of the highlights and challenges you hadn’t planned for during the early stages of your business?
I think we might have underestimated the logistical side of things – it’s taken many years of learning and we keep improving and adjusting. It can be incredibly challenging setting up a whole restaurant in a different location each event. The weather can be a huge challenge and really make or break an event.
I’d have to say the highlights would definitely be the people we’ve met along the way – getting to go out on country and spend time with traditional owners and the guests who attend the dinners.
How do you work with the traditional owners of the areas that Fervor operates in?
We will try to spend at least a day out on country in each location we go to, to learn about the land, people, culture and food. This gives us a greater understanding and deeper respect for the region we are in and the food we use.
How do they influence the menu and your overall approach to food?
The traditional owners have a big influence on how the menu turns out. A lot of the time we are learning and tasting ingredients for the first time, so we listen to the advice of the Elders and follow their lead on how to treat each ingredient.
Foraging for local ingredients. Photo: Fervor
What types of people are attracted to this niche dining experience?
I think we’ve got a very broad range of customers. Guests who attend are usually people eager to not only dine, but also interested in a learning experience and spending time appreciating this beautiful country and the ingredients found within it.
How has that changed over the years?
Over the past few years there has definitely been an increase in use of native Australian Ingredients in mainstream cooking, and I think more people are starting to really appreciate what they have in their back yard.
What makes your dining experience stand out from the rest?
I think our events are unique in a way that each dinner is totally different – the location, the menu and the atmosphere. It is something you can’t replicate anywhere else as each environment is unique.
When creating a new recipe, how do you know what flavour combinations you want to achieve when the ingredients are usually so hard to source?
We draw a lot of inspiration from spending time on country and seeing the ingredients in their raw, natural state. We listen to and learn from the traditional owners and then try to create dishes that are simple, delicious and let the main ingredient shine.
Fervor dinner at Taste of Kakadu 2018
Tell us about the performance and production involved in the Fervor dining experience
Nature speaks for itself, and there’s not much you need to do to make her look incredible. The team at Fervor plays a big part in each dining experience as we’re lucky enough to be working with some pretty amazing people who share our passion and values.
The aim is to provide people with an amazing experience, but at the same time make them feel at home.
You’re not only a chef, but also an author, brewer and video producer. How do you combine all these different passions successfully?
Well, I can’t take credit for all of it – I would say the success of a lot of what we do is to work with great people who share the same passion and have been an amazing support over the past six years.
Do you have any advice for young people looking to follow a similar career?
Take your time, be respectful and learn as much as you can from the traditional owners. Don’t take short cuts, and put all your energy into achieving your goal.
How do you see Fervor changing or growing in the future?
Travelling further across the country is a goal of ours and we look forward to exploring, learning and connecting with other states across Australia.
Fervor dinner at Taste of Kakadu 2018
What keeps you coming back to the Taste of Kakadu festival?
A Taste of Kakadu is an incredible festival. It’s a celebration of culture, and from the moment you arrive in the region, you feel welcomed and a part of it. Kakadu is a magical place with some very incredible people.
What advice do you have for visitors coming to Taste of Kakadu for the first time?
Allow extra time to really explore the park and events.
What do you never leave home without?
Catch Yoda at Taste of Kakadu on 18 March
Yoda will be hosting a free open-air cooking class at the Bowali Visitor Centre on Saturday 18 March 2019.
No bookings are required – just turn up to learn about Kakadu’s unique flavours from a truly world-class chef.
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