Thursday, November 26, 2015


Please tell us a little bit about your childhood and background, your culture and heritage;
Growing up in a small town called Dapto in the 70s was so fortunate for me. Wollongong, being a city in those days, driven by the steel works and mining. Being a Bundjalung man from the Illawarra region, I've become more aware of my culture and the diversity that exists, as I grew older. It wasn't something that you were aware of growing up as it was just part of your life. So going to school with kids from all walks of life and nationalities, racism wasn't really a big part of our life. Being one of a handful of Indigenous families in the area we blended in quite well with the vast majority of Europeans, Americans, British and Islanders and with that it was an interesting insight into other cultures through the mix of people from around the world.

You are a leading chef. Have you always enjoyed cooking? Please tell us a little bit about that - how long you have been cooking, what inspired you to start etc;
In my 30 odd years in cooking I have always seen the kitchen as a safe haven for myself. I love the environment and the creative aspects that the job brings. When you have the right mix of people and music in a productive kitchen it can be magic. Growing up watching my aunts and mum cooking was always enjoyable and as in a lot of Indigenous families the kitchen was a focal and social point in the home. I would sit and watch them mixing things together in a bowel and put it in the oven and it would come out cooked. As a kid that was like magic to me - which inspired me to start making biscuits and cakes around nine years old.

You now cook in city restaurants, on TV shows and universities/education institutions among more. Have you always cooked in the cities and in such situations or have you also cooked in the country, perhaps back at your childhood home, for large numbers of people?
I was trained in a city hospital. Seems funny but back in the 70s and 80s food was prepared fresh and every day. We as apprentices had to do time in the variety of stations around the kitchen. The salad, vegetable, dessert, meat and fish, dietary and pasta kitchens were big and when cooking for a 1200 bed hospital the task was huge but it was a great learning environment as well as social environment working with people from all over the world. These days I work all over the world in different environments and my training and people was a huge aspect to my success today. I love visiting different Indigenous communities, remote and regional cooking in camp and earth ovens, exploring the variety of foods and people and elders from those areas.

You have had your own cooking series. Please tell us about that;
I had an idea for a cooking show in the early 90s and it wasn't until I put myself through Melbourne's premier film school, VCA in Victoria, did I get the opportunity to develop the series and approach the ABCs Indigenous affairs programme, 'Message Stick' to have a 10 minute cooking spot that it all came together. After that, the concept was developed to showcase our amazing country, bushtucker and Aboriginal culture and the series: 'The Outback Cafe' was developed in collaboration with Tourism Australia and the State Tourism Organisations and has been shown around the world and in Australia. It's been an amazing journey and there is a lot more than happened along the way but fundamentally that was how it all unfolded.

You have cooked on TV and in the above. Have you ever cooked in movies at all?
When I had a restaurant in Sydney called 'The Midden' in the 90s I did  cook for film sets which was a great way to be on set and see how all the machinations of the TV and film world worked and inspired me to get into film school and make short films and develop my ideas for a cooking series.

You have some pretty major clients, including Oprah. Please tell us about that;
That was an amazing experience cooking for Oprah's guest whilst in Victoria. These people were taken on a trip of a lifetime and to meet them was a pleasure. They embraced our workshop and got to try kangaroo, emu and crocodile as well as the native fruits and herbs from around the country. It was incredible!

You do have your own business, a restaurant. Do you have more than one? When did you begin this/these and why?
I have had a restaurant and catering company and they are both hard work. I basically started them to get and give people an idea that we have this amazing produce in the country and we don't utilize them. We are blessed to have so much that others around the world are in awe of and that we as Australians take a lot of it for granted. On my crusade to educate our country of these amazing Indigenous foods and produce we have, I have been able to get it on the palate and consciousness of the Australian people which I hope in time will be our national cuisine.

2013 was a very big year for you. Please tell us about that;
Every year has been a big year and don't think 2013 was any different, only that my focus is to educate and inspire young Indigenous and non-Indigenous kids the value of what we have and I think that is where we have to, as mentors, is to focus on the next generation.

You have also been selected for 'Friends of Australia - Plans for the Future'. Is this correct? Please tell us about that;
'Friends of Australia' is Tourism Australia's advocacy programme where influential ambassadors and opinion leaders act as storytellers for Australian holidays in the mainstream media sectors. Through a range of initiatives such as media hosting and profile raising opportunities such as the recent Australia campaign at Milan's World Expo and Restaurant Australia, I get to travel and educate people all over the country and globe about Australia and its amazing food regions and fresh produce and Indigenous people.

You have also trained under major European chefs. Please tell us more about that;
'Rino is an Italian chef and came to Australia in the 60s after travelling the globe. He settled in Wollongong and I was fortunate to have a patient and hands on teacher to guide me through my career. We're still great mates and regularly keep in touch. Through my travels, I've certainly enjoyed working alongside other chefs including Indigenous chefs from other countries presenting Australian cuisine and creating fusion dishes from our respective countries.

And you have published your own cookbook. Have you written more than one? Do you have plans for further books in the future?
Plans are in the pipe-works for a new book when I get a bit of time; also I want to develop product for the Black Olive brand, so watch this space!

What and/or who are your inspirations?
My family and friends inspire me a lot. My values and attitude to life stems from them. A few chefs inspire me and growing up there wasn't much on TV so we had to be creative in a more practical and imaginative way, which I think inspired a lot of what we see today.

What are your short and long term plans for the future?
Another TV series, a new book, develop produce and retirement!

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