Scrambled eggs with saltbush, bunya nut hummus, curry with river mint, and bouillabaisse with lemon myrtle are just a few of the recipes in South Australian chef Andrew Fielke’s new book Australia’s Creative Native Cuisine, which encourages Australians to use more indigenous ingredients in everyday cooking.
In what he says is a move towards developing Australia’s own cuisine, Fielke wants to help preserve knowledge and support the growing number of Indigenous communities who are producing native ingredients at a commercial scale.
“It’s my hope this book will help more people introduce these ingredients into family homes and make them a part of their regular fare,” Fielke says.
“Food is a great pathway to reconciliation. Australia is evolving and growing up as a nation and we should make efforts to incorporate these foods into an Australian diet. A true Australian cuisine comes from the heart and the home.”
Fielke founded Adelaide’s Red Ochre Grill in 1992 and expanded with restaurants in Alice Springs and Cairns. He got out of the restaurant game in 2001 to start his wholesale food business, Creative Native Foods, which supplies restaurants with indigenous produce.
The business also now sells a range of retail products available to the public.
“We work closely with Indigenous communities and farmers to create sustainable and responsible sourcing practices,” Fielke says.
“We’re seeing very clear evidence of increasing interest in native foods in Australia from hotels and restaurants to pubs and now retail products. This, in turn, benefits the Aboriginal communities on the supply side.”
Australia’s Creative Native Cuisine provides recipes, information and tips on where to source ingredients. It also includes a summary of Fielke’s introduction to, and eventual obsession with, native foods.
“I grew up near the River Murray as a country boy camping, fishing, and hunting,” he says.
In the early ’80s, Fielke backpacked around Europe, working in top restaurants in Switzerland, Austria, and London. It was during those years that he began thinking about the concept of Australian cuisine.
“I just loved the way that the French and the Italians were so ingrained in their food culture as an important part of their lives. I thought, gee — we don’t really have that food culture in Australia,” he says.
“What’s a true Australian cuisine? I couldn’t really pin anything down. There’s got to be more to it than barbecues and meat pies.”
It was in 1985, while he was working at Mount Lofty House, Fielke first came across kangaroo meat from a butcher, and he also started cooking with quandong.
“It really struck a chord with me because I remember growing up as a kid on the River Murray and we used to play marbles in the sand with beautiful round quandong stones,” he says. “For me, that was a lightbulb moment that really set me on my path.”
Leaving the restaurant industry in 2001 allowed Fielke more time to visit Indigenous communities, becoming increasingly consumed with learning about Australian native foods.
Fielke says he is passionate about fostering relationships that are beneficial for Indigenous people and their communities. He now works with about a dozen Indigenous communities Australia-wide, forming a bush supply chain for Creative Native Foods.
“We are commercialising traditional foods into a modern Western business, so I am very passionate about the fact that we have to work alongside Indigenous people and not just take from them,” Fielke says.
“History is littered with sad cases of the destruction of Indigenous culture, habitat, and lifestyle.
“There’s so much depth of knowledge out there and sadly it has been lost in certain areas. It needs to be retold, relearnt, and preserved for future generations. There’s so much more to learn and a bigger story to be told if we could embrace the culture and work with the aboriginal community.”
A fellow pioneer in bringing indigenous ingredients into mainstream culture is Herb Smith – a Wiradjuri man who founded Dreamtime Tuka about five years ago.
Based in Wellington, NSW, Dreamtime Tuka gained nation-wide attention when Smith secured a contract to supply products for Qantas flights and lounges. Smith has recently secured business to supply Dreamtime Tuka foods into BP service stations.
In 2018, Fielke and Smith collaborated to produce a successful quandong Christmas pudding. Fielke invited Smith to write a foreword in Australia’s Creative Native Cuisine.
Smith says Aboriginal people are proud that their culture is being widely recognised.
“There’s no greater way to share stories and knowledge than through food,” he says.
Smith has fond memories of his grandmother cooking with indigenous ingredients when he was growing up.
“These sorts of ingredients have been part of Indigenous culture for a long time,” he said.
“It’s something that’s held pretty close, but Aboriginal people are very proud now that those elements are being utilised in mainstream Australia.”
Smith and Fielke share a passion to bring wider recognition to the Australian native food industry.
“What impresses me about him (Fielke) is that he’s not only looking at it in terms of the business potential but what it can also do for Aboriginal communities,” Smith says.
“Andrew’s been able to provide a tool now for anyone to be able to cook up a nice meal at home with indigenous ingredients.”
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