Aboriginal cooks and chefs weigh in on the native ingredients made popular by famous restaurants in Australia. Written for Fine Dining Lovers, 1 June 2017.
A Café Up North
At Kungas Can Cook, a café in Alice Springs serving food like burgers, salads, ice teas, pies and brownies, Aboriginal owner Rayleen Brown has made it her lifework to showcase indigenous ingredients. In the evenings she hosts groups for a gourmet dinner that starts with a large platter of “bush tucker” – native Australian ingredients that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have been using for generations. “The plants have stories, we were taught the stories when we were young. It’s tied in with The Creation, our dreamtime stories,” Rayleen explains.
At the dinners, she may serve seared kangaroo fillet with Quandong plum glaze, Warrigal greens, lamb with a saltbush dukkah, desert lime curd tarts and bush tomato chocolate truffles. “Me and a group of the women, we went to Sydney and we knocked on the door [of Noma] and we said ‘Hi. We are the women who grow your ingredients.’ They were so taken aback,” she says. “Rene [Redzepi] wasn’t there. It was a Monday and they were closed but the chefs were prepping. And we showed them what was in our basket. We collected plants they hadn’t seen before.”
Rayleen’s café is stocked with home-made bush tomato relish, Quangdong jam, bush tucker muesli, dukkah, pepperberries and ground wattle seed, that though very expensive, can be used to make coffee or desserts. In her kitchen, she grinds the wattle seeds in nothing more than a spice grinder – a laborious and exacting task. Ben Shewry serves kangaroo with wattle seeds at Attica in Melbourne, you’ll find chicken liver parfait with wattle seeds at Jock Zonfrillo’s Orana in Adelaide and at Wildflower in Perth, a wattle seed cream is served with the whipped chocolate dessert. Indigenous ingredients are the stars on many famous Australian restaurant menus and yet the Aboriginal cooks who first used them and continue to do so, receive little recognition…