Winning Form

Kate MatthewsCountryman

Six years ago, Björn and Claudia Form had to decide what sort of business to start in Australia before they left Switzerland.

They were looking for something besides running a winery or growing olive trees as part of their business visa permit into the country.

After researching on the internet, Björn found the perfect opportunity — bush foods.

“I’d never heard of it or heard anyone speaking about bush foods in Europe so we decided that was the thing we were going to do in Australia,” Björn said.

The couple and their two children, Auriane aged six at the time and Dareen, aged three, arrived in Brisbane and travelled along the coast to Albany by camper van, visiting bush food growers along the way.

“It gave us an idea of the type of commercially grown bush foods in Australia, but WA isn’t the same as the east coast,” Björn said.

“Most of the plants we saw along the way were rainforest plants and nobody could tell us if they grew in WA.”

The couple had to find out for themselves, and growing plants was a complete change from their previous careers in Switzerland designing and building cleanrooms for the pharmaceutical, high-technology and heath industries.

“Our decision was to change, to do something completely different. To change country, to change work, to change everything and that’s what we did,” Björn said.

Originally, the Forms wanted to settle in Denmark but as land prices rose, they looked to Youngs Siding and found the perfect location.

They purchased a 20 hectare property that had previously been used to graze cattle.

The first thing they did was revegetate and plant wind breaks to block and slow the howling winds and to provide shade.

At the same time, they ordered bush food plants from the east coast so they could be planted the following winter, in six months’ time.

“We tested more than 200 different plants from seeds as well as cuttings,” Björn said.

“From the 200 we chose 20 plants and we are still making choices today.”

There are now more than 5000 local native plants in the revegetated zones and more than 2000 food plants in the berry farm. These include different types of myrtles — lemon, cinnamon and aniseed — as well as three varieties of lilly pillies. Midyim berries, muntries, wild limes, finger limes, quandong, lemon aspen, native ginger and mango are also grown.

The Bushfood Café was opened on Boxing Day 2009, allowing customers to taste on site the value-added products.

But using native plants in cooking isn’t as easy as it seems.

“If you want to commercialise the food, the taste has to be attractive, otherwise people won’t want to buy it,” Claudia said.

“Lots of the local native fruit plants are edible when they are very, very ripe, but don’t have an extraordinary taste. Then there are other plants that are too slow growing.”

The Forms have been involved in a trial growing Ravensthorpe radish with native plant researcher Geoff Woodall.

A hothouse next to the café is home to plants preferring a warmer environment, sheltered from the elements and wind.

Originally, Björn and Claudia were using bush foods grown in the east but have slowly been able to replace them with plants grown at Youngs Siding as their yields increase.

Leaves from the lemon myrtle trees are picked, dried and grinded into spice and used in a dressing, infused olive oil or syrup, which are all available for purchase.

In the café, Claudia has included lemon myrtle in fish cakes and laksa, as well as a range of sweets including shortbread and cheesecake.

Muntries berries, which taste like a mixture of apple and cinnamon, have been made into jam, ice-cream, milkshakes, chutney and are also sold fresh or frozen.

“In Switzerland, like in France, to have a good culinary education is very important,” Björn said.

“The best dishes are the ones that make you remember your mother’s cuisine, but we couldn’t refer to that principle.

“You have to invent everything. It’s real work, real chef work, not just cooking. It’s having ideas and setting up a menu that people will want to try.”

Besides the speciality dishes integrating bush foods, chef Claudia also offers curries, which she learnt to make while travelling through Asia and the Middle East.

All spice blends are prepared from scratch and some curries include various spices from bush food plants that required weeks of trials to refine taste and flavours. These spices are grown on the property and add a stronger flavour because of their freshness.

Claudia pays particular attention to preparing dishes that do not contain preservatives and additives, and she can always recommend at least one dish specially adapted to dietary needs.

No matter whether you would like to enjoy a delicious lunch or a relaxing afternoon coffee with homemade cakes, The Bushfood Factory and Café should be a place of first choice.

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