The Connected Chef
Meet eco warrior simone watts, head chef at julaymba restaurant at the daintree ecolodge.
Together We Fly - August/September 2018
Words by: Michelle Hespe
Simone Watts, originally from Melbourne, now lives on a palm-tree fringed beach where she plucks fresh coconuts from the ground for some morning electrolytes, and she works in one of the world’s most pristine eco-systems, the Daintree Rainforest. Every day of her life she is surrounded by an abundance of incredible produce that chefs from all over the world scurry to order for their own award-winning restaurants, meaning diners at Julaymba Restaurant can enjoy the best produce nature has on offer, as fresh as it could be.
The coastal flora is abundant with flowering native hibiscus. "These stunning yellow flowers have been used for centuries by local Aboriginals as a cure for depression, and make for a beautiful garnish on our desserts at the Lodge," Simone explains. "Quandongs have also started to drop around our gardens, so I come into the kitchen with pockets full of them!"
Simone's connection with the environment has steadily developed over time. "At the beginning of my career I was focused on absorbing flavours, techniques and ingredients, and it wasn’t until I had matured and moved on to managing kitchens that I became aware that chefs play only a small part of the ‘seed-to-plate’ journey of food," she says. "Being a chef and an environmentalist should go hand in hand, because without the land and sea, our world ceases to exist.”
It's an important point that we should all understand.
Down the road, Simone has access to blueberry farms and avocados bursting with flavour, and an incredible array of native fruits such as Davidson plums and the endemic Boonjie tamarind. "In the dryer, warmer areas up north, you'll find some of the sweetest pineapples and bananas in the country," says Simone. "On the coast you’re greeted with produce that requires humid, warm climates such as cocoa, vanilla and green peppercorns. We are also very privileged to call the Great Barrier Reef our front yard, however it is important to mention that seafood from our surrounding waters, as stunning as it may be, is not plentiful and should be sourced from reliable suppliers that can guarantee fish are line caught as opposed to trawling practices.”
Simone believes that the one and only true constant we have in our lives is our relationship with the earth. "The importance of making respectful, mindful choices is greater than ever, as the environment is rapidly becoming a victim of our poor decisions," she says. "We can no longer grow in population and consume at current rates without giving back to allow the circle of life to continue. Chefs have therefore been thrown into the spotlight which allows us to radically influence and transform the way society thinks about food. It is not only our job to teach people how to cook, but to educate them where their food has come from."
Simone thinks there is something honest and real about the Australian food scene. "The days of pretentious fine dining here are over," she states. "We as a nation don’t have the food history or definitive cuisine that many countries do, so we have reverted back to understanding our land and the indigenous foods and techniques that have been used long before white table cloths were invented.”
Simone's favourite dish currently on Julaymba's menu is kangaroo tataki. "We use Paroo wild-game kangaroo, sourced from an area in Queensland where their dense population is having a negative effect on the environment," she explains. "There's a ‘male-only’ policy when harvesting, which reduces the impact on juvenile kangaroos. Paroo also work alongside a sister company called ‘Karmine Kangaroo Leather’, which utilises the skin of the kangaroo to make products such as aprons and belts. This no-waste, sustainable approach aligns perfectly with our overall message at the Lodge."
The kangaroo is crusted in native pepper, and marinated in soy and crushed ginger. It's served with a tea-soaked egg using local Daintree Estates tea, miso cream and a crunchy wasabi granola, and garnished with pickled ginger, marigolds from the Lodge's garden and bamboo charcoal salt.
"This dish showcases our native Australian ingredients, and highlights how lucky we are to live in such a multi-cultural country with a variety of inspirational cuisines," says Simone. It also beautifully showcases Simone's talent, and her passion for appreciating everything that Mother Nature offers her.
For dining and accommodation options, please visit
For dining and accommodation options, please visit
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