What do you get when you combine kangaroo, some quandongs, a box of native spices and 25 years of research?
You get an Australian indigenous cuisine cookbook.
The author? South Australian chef and Creative Native Foods founder Andrew Fielke.
While most might be more comfortable tucking thoughts, memories and outfits from the 80s away out of sight, Andrew has built a career around one integral thought he had in the 80s — what is Australian cuisine?
“What is it? Is it meat pies? Barbecue and Vegemite? That’s where it all came from,” he said.
His interest in Australian cuisine bloomed after a trip to Europe in the ‘80s where he said his understanding of what represented Australian food was brought into question.
“Native ingredients didn’t come into it until I came back and I was offered kangaroo meat and quandongs (to try),” he said.
“Soon after I tried the kangaroo and quandongs I was gifted a marvelous box of weird and wonderful ancient indigenous ingredients which had been used for tens of thousands of years by the Aboriginal community.
“I’d never even heard of them as an Australian and thought ‘wow we are really missing the mark here’. It was like opening up my eyes to a whole new cornucopia of ingredients.
“As a chef you try and be creative and do something different, I was bowled over by the awakening.”
This passion for all ingredients native drove Andrew in his career and in 2001 he left the restaurant business to open his wholesale food website Creative Native Foods.
Nineteen years later he and Brolly Books have published a cookbook that puts those weird and wonderful native Australian ingredients at the heart of every dish.
“It’s something that’s been on my agenda for 20 odd years,” Andrew said, admitting to not having the time to spare with the popularity and growth at the time of the Red Ochre restaurants.
The Renmark-raised chef is paving the way for commercialised home access to these ingredients and Andrew is adamant he will not exclude indigenous Australians from their fair share — particularly as many of these ingredients are inedible in the wild without taking measured steps that first Australians have honed over thousands of years.
“I feel very passionate about the fact that it’s their traditional cultural foods we are commercialising in the modern Western business environment,” he said.
“And I think it’s critical we do not rip them off and brush aside that knowledge and their story lines, it is incredibly important we work alongside them for their long term benefit.”
While Andrew has many expansion plans for Australian native cuisine, he said the first step with this book was raising awareness not only of the ingredients but the culture behind them.
“It’s starting to happen already — we’re getting some amazingly good comments about the book and sales are going well. We’re looking at reprinting already which is amazing in these times,” he said.
Andrew said with the current movement of people having to stay at home more, particularly in Victoria and cooking at home more, it’s not just a time to read but a time to cook with family.
“What a great time that is to familiarise yourself with true Australian cuisine,” he said.
“This sort of thing encourages people to go out and buy these ingredients and get them in the garden, making them a part of their home cooking repertoire.”
It’s perfect for hunters to try as well, Andrew said as the native ingredients go so well with game meat it’s like a match made in heaven.
“We have so many ingredients, from gentle softer spices to full-on powerful flavours,” Andrew said.
“There is so much variation, but the bottom line is they do have a place with game meats and they suit the milder flavours to the strong robust flavours.
“And the great joys of hunting deer and growing wild foods is cooking at home for family and friends and enjoying the experience from paddock to plate as such.”
While the cookbook Australia’s Creative Native Cuisine has recipes covering meals from breakfast to dessert, appetisers included, with some recipes Andrew has been working on for most of his career, sadly it cannot cover every native ingredient there is.
“There’s an international food data base out there somewhere and it has something like 7,000 indigenous ingredients logged in it,” Andrew said.
“I’ve been using them for the last 20 years and have played around with 100 maybe 150.
“There is a long way to go.
“The joys of being a chef and being creative, any home cook who just loves new food and ingredients is you get excited when you have something new to play with.
“So, boy, when you’re faced with hundreds it’s a huge exciting challenge.
“The work will never be done in my lifetime.”
You can purchase Andrew’s cookbook Australia’s Creative Native Cuisine from the Creative Native Foods website creativenativefoods.com.au