Kangaroo burgers and wallaby: Indigenous chefs take the Australian bush to the world

Indigenous chefs (L-R) Luke Bourke, David Gray, Sam Bourke and Josh Moore at Attica in Glen Eira in Melbourne.
Indigenous chefs (L-R) Luke Bourke, David Gray, Sam Bourke and Josh Moore at Attica in Glen Eira in Melbourne. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

In 1868, 13 Indigenous Australians travelled to England for a series of matches against local cricket teams – the first organised group of Australian sportspeople to go overseas.

Since then, First Australians have forged a rich history of involvement in the nation's sporting landscape.

Next week, 150 years after their cricketing ancestors, a group of four young Indigenous chefs will travel across the globe to showcase their traditional cooking and culture.

Indigenous chefs David Gray, Luke Bourke, Josh Moore and Sam Bourke at Attica in Glen Eira in Melbourne.
Indigenous chefs David Gray, Luke Bourke, Josh Moore and Sam Bourke at Attica in Glen Eira in Melbourne. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

It is hoped the trip – the first of its kind – will help make working in Australia's top kitchens just as viable a career aspiration for Indigenous Australians as dazzling in our sporting arenas.

The group of chefs, from Melbourne and Sydney, will travel to Ireland for a food festival to showcase high-end cooking that has native Australian ingredients and cooking methods at its core.

A far cry from the simplicity of bush tucker, the chefs will use methods learnt in some of Australia's acclaimed kitchens to show that Indigenous cooking is not out of place alongside Michelin-starred competition.

Indigenous chef Jayde Harris at Rockpool Bar & Grill in Sydney.
Indigenous chef Jayde Harris at Rockpool Bar & Grill in Sydney.  Photo: Supplied

The Irish expedition, organised by the National Indigenous Culinary Institute, forms part of a broader program that aims to unearth the first Indigenous head chef of a three-hatted Australian restaurant.

The institute places talented chefs in Melbourne and Sydney restaurants including Rockpool, Bistro Guillaume, Icebergs, MoVida and the European.

Invited by Australia's ambassador to Ireland, Richard Andrews, the chefs will share their skills at the West of Cork Food Festival, including staging full dinners at local restaurants.

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On the menu are dishes including pepper-crusted wallaby with blackberry, beetroot and murnong (yam daisy) mash, and kangaroo burgers with lemon myrtle and bush tomato chutney.

After the Irish leg, twins Luke and Sam Bourke will spend three weeks working at The Ledbury in London, a restaurant with two Michelin stars recently placed 42nd on the influential World's 50 Best Restaurants list.

In 2013, Sam Bourke started as an apprentice under Neil Perry at his Sydney flagship Rockpool. Bourke is now a sous chef at sister restaurant Rosetta.

Bourke says running a three-hatted kitchen would be the pinnacle. "That moment," he says, "would be recognised all over Australia. It would make the Australian culinary scene, and society generally, pretty proud of Indigenous people and where we've come from."

The NICI program has allowed the twins and their colleagues, Joshua Moore and David Gray, to delve into Indigenous cooking through training and events.

Bourke's knowledge of native cooking meant he was able to impart a few pearls of wisdom to Ben Shewry, head chef at three-hatted Melbourne restaurant Attica.

Shewry, who hosted the four chefs at Attica last week, says he learns something new about native Australian food each time he speaks to an Indigenous chef.

The award-winning chef, whose restaurant has long had a focus on native ingredients, says he plans to hire some of the NICI chefs in future.

"It's incredibly important to help these young chefs take pride in their food and their traditional knowledge," says Shewry. "I have a responsibility to share the knowledge forward, and pass on these amazing stories.

"I was incredibly encouraged by the calibre of these young people. Some of them will definitely come through and break down barriers."