Chefs Embrace Bush Tucker

The Advertiser, Dec 26, 2006; By Peter Hackett; Pictures: Brenton Edwards

Bush tucker is good for you, after all it sustained the original inhabitants of this country for thousands of years.

Bush food has worked its way on to the menus of Adelaide eateries, more as a novelty than nutrition.

But Aboriginal chef Mark Olive says bush food is healthy and abundant, despite the drought.

"I have been cooking with this stuff for about 25 years," says Olive, who has his own TV show, The Outback Cafe, on the Lifestyle Channel.

"There as always been interest in bush food. It's very healthy for you. It's just been a matter of supply," he said.

But that is changing, with the Outback Pride Bushfoods Project, a community-managed native food "garden" in South Australia's Outback and the creative input of walkabout chef Mark Olive into the new book Outback Cafe - Tastes of the Outback - a collection of recipes using native foods, including produce from indigenous gardens in the Pitjantjatjara Lands of the state's Far North.

Established in 2004 by horticulturalists Mike and Gayle Quarmby, with SA and Federal Government support, the bush food project at the remote Mimili and Amata communities produces desert raisins (bush tomatoes), quandongs, tanami apples, desert yams, native oranges, rock figs and desert limes.

Food not consumed by the communities is marketed by the Quarmbys as relishes, sauces and bush food pies under the Outback Pride label.

Mike Quarmby says there is now a demand for 10 tonnes of Vitamin-C-ruch desert raisins from buyers such as Adelaide's Hilton International Hotel, the Red Ochre Grill and local food processors.

"The communities have taken a real pride in their plots and have shown a lot of initiative in managing and maintaining them," Gayle Quarmby says.

Mark Olive, who was born in Wollongong and trained as a chef there, has taken two years to compile the Outback Cafe recipe book.