Indigenous chef Mark Olive headlines the Multicultural Festival

“I love getting out there and showcasing our indigenous foods, introducing it to a new generation.

“It’s been great to see how much more accessible ingredients have become, what’s available commercially, and let people know how they can use them at home with their own cooking.”

It’s the second time a chef has been invited along to headline the festival. Poh Ling Yeow was the inaugural festival chef and her cooking demonstrations were a highlight of the 2018 event.

Olive will be doing two demonstrations at 11am and 1pm on Saturday on the main stage in Garema Place.

For the past 40 or so years, the proud Bundjalung man has been on a mission to have native herbs, spices and meats adopted by mainstream Australia.

As far back as the 1980s Olive had an idea for a television cooking show.

“Back then the only cooking shows were with people like Bernard King, Elizabeth Chong and Gabriel Gate, there were no aboriginal faces on television anywhere.”

Mark Olive: "We've embraced every other culture in this country except our own."

Mark Olive: «We’ve embraced every other culture in this country except our own.»

In 1993, he had recently moved from Wollongong to Sydney and saw a sign for a community television project. This set him on the path to theatre studies and film and television school where he wrote The Outback Cafe, the television series he had always dreamed of.

It aired on Foxtel in the early 2000s.

He also picked up segments on ABC TV’s Message Stick indigenous lifestyle series and went on to publish a successful cookbook based on The Outback Cafe, Mark Olive’s Outback Cafe: A Taste of Australia.

He’s always been a champion of indigenous cuisine.

“I remember the first native herb I ever tasted. It was around Casino and Wardell in the Northern Rivers region of NSW where lemon myrtle grows in abundance and made regular appearances in my auntie’s fantastic scones,” he said.

“It wasn’t until the mid 1980s that I started experimenting with flavours like wattleseed and warrigal greens, and things I’d pluck from neighbourhood trees. It was a time of experimentation.

“As a chef, I’d been trained in the traditional way and wasn’t exposed to native foods professionally, so it took a few years for it all to come together.”

He appeared in an episode of Annabel Crabb’s Back in Time for Dinner in 2018 where he introduced some ingredients to the Ferrone family and talked about the introduction of kangaroo meat to the market.

It was legalised for human consumption in South Australia in 1980 but not until 1993 in the rest of the country. It is readily available now and people have even adopted kangatarianism as a lifestyle choice.

“We do need to think more about native proteins too, kangaroo, emu, crocodile,” he says.

“We should be using more of it.”

The National Multicultural Festival is on February 15-17 in City Walk. For more details

Karen Hardy is a reporter at The Canberra Times.

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