Clayton Donovan grew up on Gumbaynggirr and Bundjalung land on the mid north coast of New South Wales. He started learning about native produce when he was four years old out walking with his Aunties and grandmothers, taking what they found in the bush or along the coastline and cooking it up at their homes.
As a young man he worked in kitchens washing dishes in Nambucca Heads while performing in a band, skating and surfing. Clayton obtained his High School Certificate, and began studying for a law degree. He soon realised this was not his preferred career and began a commercial cooking course in Sydney.
From this, Clayton started an apprenticeship on board a private catamaran moored in Sydney Harbour preparing food for stars such as The Eurythmics and the LA Lakers. He began to develop his own style of cooking but wanted to learn more about using native ingredients in a restaurant environment. Knowing that head chef Kenneth Leung was integrating ingredients such as wattle seed, rosella and myrtles into Asian and European inspired dishes, he applied to work at The Watermark at Balmoral Beach.
After hours he learned additional skills in Italian, seafood and fine dining restaurants by working in different sections of their kitchens. Eventually Clayton was introduced to the secrets and gastronomic intricacies involved in creating and presenting dishes in hatted restaurants.
With his apprenticeship complete, Clayton moved to England where he took sous chef and head chef positions in restaurants and manor houses such as Fowey Hall. This introduced him to English game and new seafood to include in his culinary repertoire.
In 2008 Clayton returned to Nambucca Heads to open Jaaning tree. The restaurant combined Clayton’s international experience with his understanding of Australian native foods to produce a unique and contemporary cuisine with an Indigenous twist. He won the Australian Good Food Guide Chef hat four years in a row during that time. He is the only indigenous chef to have achieved that accolade. After over five years of trading he decided to evolve the business to include media work, long lunches, pop ups and education. Clayton Donovan has also written and presented of a series of ABC TV programs which have been broadcasting on ABC.