Chutneys are his jam

Elfreds of the Peninsula is the creation of Fred Johnson, a European chef who has been living and working on the Mornington Peninsula for over 20 years. His preserves and delicacies business comprises ranges of chutneys, relishes, sauces, pickles, preserves, spices, jams and marmalades; they are recipes that have been gathered over the last 40 years through Fred’s travels and working career as a chef in various parts of the world.

Fred’s love affair with food and markets started long ago as a child in Nigeria having spent a lot of time going to the markets in the village of ljebu Ode for his mum. He recalls, “At the age of ten I was sent to markets to go and buy vegetables, chillis, meats and fish. I also remember playing in the little village night market which was on most nights of the week.”

His fascination with food continued later on in life as a young chef in England. Fred feels that local markets are the centre point of most communities and that they were always his first stop after stepping foot off a bus in a new town. He says, “It was the markets that I wanted to check out first.”

“I got to know what a new town or city was like from the vibe of the market. I would walk up and down the rows of vegetable and fruit sellers, the butchers and the fishmongers, checking out what was locally available. You can learn all about the food that will be available on the restaurant menus from the aisles at the local markets.”

Soon, Fred could ignore the bug no more and found himself looking for more than just working in the kitchen from morning to night. After a stint in America he returned to the UK with the knowledge of Mexican cuisine and, as most chefs do, all he wanted to do was show off what he had learnt.

“As soon as possible I got myself a spot at the renowned 5-day Glastonbury Festival and so was born Elfreds Mexican Cantina. I traded there, serving Mexican food for the next 40 years”, Fred said. Life for Fred revolved around festivals and shows. During the off-season he worked for catering companies in London humbly scrubbing dishes all over Britain and Europe and aiding in providing refined refreshment to stately homes, shows, business functions, premieres and weddings. He adds, “You name it, we did the lot.”

Since his days of running amuck at the night markets, Fred has also trained as a garde manger, (the specialty chef in charge of cold food items and storage), and a pâtissier; skills that he learned working in his earlier years in establishments in London.

He has cooked in various restaurants, hotels and catering companies from Portsea to Melbourne and all over Australia. He is also a qualified chef and cooking trainer and teaches at Chisholm in Frankston.

Fred is also happy to share his experiences as a market and festival trader to help many new and old businesses on their way to a successful career as market traders. He says, “I have seen the ups and downs and ins and outs of how the markets and festivals work and can help them to avoid the pitfalls and save them time and money.” As a trainer and assessor, he is qualified to pass on his knowledge to all new beginners to the world of markets. “Your fellow traders become good friends as you spend so much time together week after week. You grow a bond as you share the ups and downs of market life, good and bad weather days, busy markets and slow markets.”

On the peninsula, you can find Elfreds delicious morsels beautifully jarred and packaged at most craft and farmers markets. Visitors from interstate and customers that he meets at his kiosks can also find him online. “We have a loyal base of customers that is one of our best assets as they love to promote and share our products with their family and friends.”

Keen to promote local produce, Elfreds’ products vary with the seasons as he selects the best produce when it is at its prime. He is proud to be part of the Mornington Peninsula wine and culinary region and considers it a bonus to being surrounded by some of the best handmade, home-cooked, and homegrown produce that you will ever find anywhere in Australia.

Fred shares some of his favourite market stalls on his blog, Babylon Chef, via the Elfreds website. “All of the producers take a lot of pride in what they sell and there is nothing like being face-to-face with the person who made what you are buying.”

Peninsula Essence – February 2024