For Rojina McDonald, a career cultivated by a love of food came about organically. “I’ve always loved cooking, I’d always sit and watch my mum cook in the kitchen,” she explains. “I didn’t go out pursuing food but I enjoyed it, so I followed what I enjoyed.”
Growing up on 32-acres of olive groves on the Fleurieu Peninsula, this passion for food and the people who make it shouldn’t come as a surprise. As a young girl, Rojina not only witnessed the toil of producing olive oil firsthand but was further inspired by her parents’ culinary handiwork. Her mother a passionate home cook and father a keen fisherman, she says, “nothing was ever bland in our household”.
While the seed of culinary appreciation was planted at home, it flourished when Rojina got her first job at a continental deli in McLaren Vale. Championed by a sandwich bar stocked with local cheeses, meats and breads, the deli fostered an awareness of the people behind the food she ate every day. “That was when I really understood how hard producers work,” she says.
From the corner deli, Rojina went on to start her own cupcake business, Cupcakes by Rojina McDonald, which earned her a place at Le Cordon Bleu in London. Like many South Australians, it was this time spent overseas that truly drove home the calibre of produce, people and landscapes in our backyard. Thus, the idea for a cookbook that showcased her home region was born.
That book is Faces and Food of the Fleurieu, which as the name suggests is a ‘dedication to the faces and food of the Fleurieu Peninsula’. Determined to create something that would break the mould of a traditional cookbook, the recipes come directly from the menus and minds of the establishments and producers whose stories are told in the book.
“The Bracegirdles brownie recipe is their brownie recipe; the Aunty’s ricotta, rice and limoncello torta is on Pizzateca’s menu; the raw lime pie is in the cabinet at The Green Room,” says Rojina.
While the inside access to the region’s iconic dishes has the food aspect accounted for, the stories behind the recipes make up the faces. For this reason, Rojina is simply unable to pick a favourite.
“Gina’s Kitchen and her sweet tomato sauce, she learned that from her family when she was in Italy as a little girl; Ellis Butcher, that was our butcher growing up and Jim who was the original owner would give us smiley fritz and now he’s handed it down to Ian; the recipe from Little Acre Foods, that’s the rabbit rillettes that [Jim Casey] made on their wedding day.”
“Harry’s Deli, that recipe is a [Son of Trott] pie that was one of the favourite recipes of the late Greg Trott, who was the owner of Wirra Wirra, it was one of his favourites and it was him and David Swain of Fino’s that came up with it,” Rojina explains.
“It’s more than a cookbook, it’s a tourist guide, something that tells the story of people,” she continues. “I couldn’t have done it without the people and I thought it would be weird just to have recipes, I really wanted to tell their stories.”
An emotional connection with the growers, producers, farmers and makers is apparent as Rojina flips through the pages of her self-published debut book. “My appreciation grew even more through the production of this book because you visit these people and you hear their stories,” she explains.
“It’s so important to know the people and we’re lucky that we do, you can go to the Willunga Farmers Market and know exactly who produces your milk, your cheese, your bread and say hello to the maker then and there,” she continues. “I think it’s so important to showcase the makers because we want them, they’re the people who make the region.”
Through passing these stories on to the reader, Rojina hopes they’ll become acquainted with the faces behind the food and be inclined to shop in their backyard.
“Support local where you can, especially South Australian made and owned, show people, I want people to cook the recipes [and] to get out and buy the products,” she says.
Photos by Josie Withers