New Jerusalem introduces contemporary African to Adelaide
From Kimba to Kensington Road, this husband and wife team traded in their rural South Australian medical practice to build a restaurant so they could fund their orphanage in South Sudan.
Flames burnish New Jerusalem’s tiny kitchen on Kensington Road, as Monica Claughton tosses tomatoes in a frying pan. White lettering on the stainless steel rangehood above her reads, ‘Oh Magnify Yahweh My Soul’.
She works one-handed, but moves so deftly that her paralysed left arm is easy enough to miss.
On the bench is a vase of wild purple-flowered sweet pea she found while foraging in the Adelaide Hills; it now features in a new dish, with organic chicken and house-made raspberry sauce.
“When you love and care about the food, people can tell,” Monica tells CityMag, as she plates up an entree of peppers encased in balsamic beef. “There is a gentleness to your cooking.
“The name of our restaurant kind of means ‘heaven on a plate’ – food should be real and clean, uncomplicated, to bring out the natural flavours. It tastes junky but there is very little added fat or sugar, and it’s nourishing!”
Monica and her husband of three years, Daniel, are New Jerusalem Cuisine.
She is the culinary queen, fusing Western comfort and traditional Sudanese foods into sensory joy; he is the front-of-house guru, authority on handcrafted Barratt Wines, and maker of quandong cheesecake.
No strangers to sharing a workplace, they are a curious pair of restauranteurs whose last gig was running the remote medical clinic at Kimba on the Eyre Peninsula.
Daniel was the region’s only doctor and Monica offered free counselling services, before they yielded to the pull of fine dining with no formal hospitality experience, armed only by what Daniel calls the “school of life.”
“We spent three months visiting farm gates and travelling across SA,” he says, sitting beside his wife in the close-quarters dining room, where the warm image of a Piccadilly Valley vineyard wraps the wall behind them, “and we were so impressed to discover this army of people who care about the livestock and land.
“We spent time on the farms, which helped us find local places that supply ethically raised, free-range, organic and seasonal produce.”
New Jerusalem sources game from Birdwood Venison, in the Adelaide Hills, which breeds wild Persian-Mesopotamian Fallow hybrids – “You can’t pat them,” Monica says – using natural farming practices. The herd is descended from deer held by the Shah of Iran before his regime fell in the revolution of 1979.
Nomad Farms, on the Fleurieu Peninsula, celebrated for regenerative practices, supplies the grass-fed beef and organic chicken. Quail eggs are the next big thing on Monica’s radar. The free-range pork comes from the Flinders Ranges; Ligurian honey from Kangaroo Island. Local wholesalers include Bracegirdles chocolate, Rio organic coffee and Paris Creek Bio-Dynamic Dairy.
Beyond the menu, New Jerusalem’s food revolution involves plans to showcase their suppliers at intimate on-site events.
“We are saying to customers, come here and listen to the person who is raising your food – we also want to encourage people to go to the farm gate,” Monica says.
“Before we start buying from suppliers we make sure they’re gonna be game. They have to back up how good they are and we are giving them a free platform to promote their businesses.”
Monica hand-cuts every vegetable, makes every dish to order.
“She is like a tornado in the kitchen,” Daniel says.“She gets this look on her face … (growing up) she always cooked for 20-30 people, the whole extended family and anyone else in the vicinity.
“She was born to do this.”
Literally. Monica says her mum was pot-cooking over a fire beneath a tree when she was born, two months before the family fled Sudan as refugees in 1987.
Her paralysed arm is the only evidence of an illness she contracted as a small child – possibly polio – that left her severely disabled for years before she slowly regained most functions.
“She was punished for her disability bringing shame to the family,” Daniel says, as Monica nods for him to continue telling her story, “and ended up being a slave in the kitchen, where she learnt these amazing skills.”
Monica says: “I want people to know they are free to fly without the use of part of their body – in that kitchen I am in control – challenging the labels and (perceived) limitations out there.”
New Jerusalem is a gorgeous life, but it also fuels the pair’s long game: to build and run an orphanage in Monica’s home state of Aweil, in South Sudan.
Daniel was almost deported when they arrived in the country with no papers, on a recon mission during wartime early last year.
“We found no information on entry requirements and nobody in Australia would help us because there was a ‘do not travel’ warning,” he says, “so we just went for it.”
They miraculously gained entry and were escorted by the provincial governor, who remembered Monica from childhood.
“We started a faith-based non-profit organisation, managed to buy some land, and construction of the orphanage has started,” Daniel says. “We have access to the country, we have contacts, and we have a responsibility to do something.
“If we can help one kid, even, we will be happy.”
In the meantime, they are tapping into a niche in the eastern suburbs, gaining momentum as a meeting place that brings people together over food.
It’s a celebration of life, really.
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