James Viles is one of Australia’s most respected chefs and restaurateurs for his commitment to sustainability and imaginative modern food. His repertoire includes a two-hatted restaurant, Biota Dining, Executive Chef at Wolgan Valley Resort, and two books, on Australia’s dining scene and travel. In 2020, Viles and his wife started Offgrid Provisions to feed the adventurers. Here, he tells Thrillist about his adventures from Tasmania to far North Queensland, and the importance of connecting food to land.As told to Natasha Bazika.
I was once on a trip, where I had to be flown in on a helicopter. We had to pack light, as weight was an issue, so we couldn’t take a lot with us. We were dropped into the middle of nowhere—not even cars could get there. We spent a full week out in this beautiful, remote part of Australia. I remember sitting there, eating this packet of food, being surrounded by native Australian ingredients. While out there, we were hoping to hunt, gather, and catch, but there we were, eating a packet of fashion food. I looked at the back of the packet. There was no connection to any Australian ingredients or the people who farmed and grew them. So there I was, sitting in nature, surrounded by all the land has to offer, eating something foreign. It’s not as fresh as it should be. That’s when I got the idea for Offgrid Provisions.
Offgrid Provisions connects people with nature. We work with like-minded Australian farmers and growers, to make honest, thoughtful and delicious food to feed the adventurers—the people who go off-grid. Whether you’re rock climbing or partaking in 100km hikes, you need to consume nutritious food. You’re in harsh conditions most of the time, so your food should be healthy, and energising, which is why I love making food that does that—and it should taste good.
I’ve had restaurants my whole life. I’ve owned a two-hatted restaurant in Sydney, and I grew up on the land. I foraged and gathered, spent time with remote communities to learn where the ingredients come from and now I’m using that knowledge to provide a better choice out there for this industry.
We’re still young. My wife and I started Offgrid Provisions in 2020. We have an exciting range coming out soon, which includes a stroganoff made with venison, and what I like to call, octognese—a bolognese made with octopus plucked from the Bass Strait.
It’s amazing the diversity of food we have here in all different parts of the country. I once drove from Hobart to the Cape York Peninsula. That’s a 13,000km journey. We stopped off along the way, but the ingredients and diversity between the cold, deep waters, where you pluck abalone and other amazing seafood, compared to the arid, wild winds of the Bass Strait is wild. Then, you go to North Queensland, where it’s arid and dry. You think nothing lives there, but if you look hard enough, it’s just as bountiful, with a different offering.
Of course, some people are always hesitant to try wild-caught ingredients. We make a deerstrami, which is very good for you, and it’s sustainable meat. Venison is no different to cow or lamb. It’s just, one is wild and the other is farmed—often under awful circumstances. I’m not saying I dislike farmed meat either, I prefer it to be done with a less is more approach. Everything we do at Offgrid Provisions is about respecting nature and treading lightly as we go, only taking what we want to use.
Our bush series is always a popular choice. We make chocolates with native Australian bush ingredients such as Davidson plum, finger lime, and a caramel crunch. My favourite is our rubs. We have a BBQ series, with beautiful batch made rubs and seasonings made from Australian plant species. There’s a fish rub, a white meat rub and a dark meat rub, which goes great with kangaroo and game meats.
We’re working on a few more exciting things that will hopefully fuel extreme adventurers and remote wanderers. We just want to feed your adventure.
The cold weather in most parts of Australia coinciding with EOFY celebrations is the closest thing that we’ll get to snowy Christmas vibes. And if you’re in dire need of some festive cheer after the first six months of 2023, grab your ugly sweater and head to your nearest Red Rooster for Xmas in July deals.
From June 29 – July 31, 2023, Red Rooster is serving up free food items, a chance to win $10,000 or one of 10 merch packs valued at $400 and other fun prizes. All you have to do is sign up as a Red Royalty member and spend $5 on at a location near you or online.
Each week there’ll be new delicious deals and prizes to win. The week one deals have already dropped and they’re looking pretty tasty. You can get access to them via your Red Royalty account. The more you purchase, the more chances you have to win.
Spoiler alert: you can get 10 chicken nuggets for free, right now. Brb running to Red Rooster.