From saltbush to samphire, native Australian bush food is increasingly making its mark on Australia’s food scene. Finger lime popping up in restaurants everywhere, for example, and karkalla gracing our television screens on MasterChef. However, the same hype doesn’t always surround Australia’s Indigenous chefs pioneering these ingredients.
Strangers’ Restaurant at NSW Parliament House hopes to change that over the next four weeks by showcasing Australia’s growing talent pool of First Nations chefs. The Macquarie Street fine-diner (which is open to the public) is running a special menu of snacks created by Indigenous chefs in the lead-up to NAIDOC Week.
From now until July 9, diners will be able to order a selection of four canapes designed by chefs enrolled in cooking programs at the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence and the National Indigenous Culinary Institute (NICI), founded in 2012 with the aim of training and supporting Indigenous Australians to become world-class chefs.
The NSW Parliament initiative has been coordinated by Strangers’ executive chef Vanessa Harcourt, and the snack selection includes rock oysters with lemon myrtle granita, and scallops bolstered by celeriac and samphire.
“Produce brings people together, no matter what it is”, said Harcourt, adding that the purpose of the tasting plate was to help break down barriers for Indigenous chefs.
The small dishes made their debut at the Koori Kitchen Takeover launch on Tuesday at NSW Parliament, a special event featuring six young Indigienous chefs cooking their canapes for more than 200 government staff and guests.
In planning for the event, Harcourt said she wanted the chefs to have free reign designing their dishes. “Everyone worked together and were bouncing ideas off each other. The chefs are all so passionate.”
A standout from the launch was Murray cod with yuzu and lemon myrtle dressing. Now available as part of the full Koori Kitchen tasting plate, the dish was created by Strangers’ apprentice and Gumboynggir woman Bindaray Greenup.
“I’m from Nambucca Heads, so I grew up eating a lot of seafood fresh from the ocean,” says Greenup. “I’ve enjoyed expanding my knowledge of fish and it’s exciting to see native ingredients featured on our menu.”
Another canape highlight is kangaroo tartare with pepperberry, crisp-fried capers and chives, created by Rockpool Bar and Grill chef Lizzie Lorente.
“I really wanted to give [the dish] an Indigenous twist with the pepperberries,” says Lorente. “They add a punch and transform the flavour into something modern and uniquely Australian. It’s an ingredient I would love to see used more.”
Gamilaraay woman Jayde Harris is also a chef at Rockpool in the CBD and helped cook at the launch event
“It’s more important for Indigenous people to be representing Indigenous cuisine not just for authenticity, but because it comes from a really pure place”, she says.
Harris was inspired to join the NICI program by her cousin Keith Munro, who also cooked at the NSW Parliament kitchen takeover on Tuesday. Munro, who works at Icebergs Dining Room and Bar in Bondi, says it’s time that Australia’s Indigenous chefs lead the way when it comes to cooking with native bush foods.
“There is an influx and a global interest in native ingredients, so it’s a chance for Indigenous chefs to combine culture with fine dining,” he says.
“For myself, I see it as a way of reclaiming. A way of taking back things that have been taken away from us. To have [native ingredients] at the forefront of fine dining is very important, because there’s a lack of it and we need more representation from Indigenous communities.”
Read More: Myrtle on the menu at NSW Parliament thanks to young Indigenous chefs