Who says we don’t have Native Australian Cuisine?

Posted by Josette Dunn on 13th October 2010

Visiting international chefs and Sydney gourmands were treated to a lunch in the grounds of the Royal Botanic Gardens today featuring some of the most exciting cuisine that has ever crossed their palate – from the Australian Bush.

Jennice and Raymond Kersh of the award-winning restaurant Edna’s Table conjured up a culinary riposte to the debate sparked at the International Sydney Food Festival by Danish chef Rene Redzepi’s comments that Australian chefs need to develop a native cuisine.

Chef Raymond Kersh, who has been creating and serving native Australian cuisine for 30 years, served his international guests a six course masterpiece using ingredients such as wallaby, kangaroo, emu and crocodile alongside warrigal greens, samphire, lemon myrtle, cheese, fruit, davidson plum, wattle seed and other treasures of the bush.

Each course was complemented with a wine selected by Lyndey Milan from New South Wales top 40 wines.

Botanic Gardens Trust Manager of Public Programs Janelle Hatherly said, “Janice and Raymond are among the handful of pioneering restaurateurs who have introduced the flavours of our land to non-indigenous Australians. We are delighted that they chose the Royal Botanic Gardens to showcase their cuisine that uses the healthy, flavoursome flora and fauna on which the Aboriginal people thrived for 40,000 years.”

Mr Kersh said, “Native cuisine is not modern Australian, it is eternally Australian.”

Jennice Kersh said, “Food unites people. We’ve become a multicultural society by embracing the cuisines of each wave of migrants. The embrace of the cuisine comes first, and then the embrace of the culture. When we embrace the food of the Aboriginal people, we will embrace their culture. That is the way to reconciliation.”

Chefs Musa Dagdeverin and Murad Llgicioglu from Turkey, Jennifer 8 Lee from the USA, Xu Yuan from Hong Kong and Somer Sivriotlu of Sydney were among the lunch guests who included Joanna Savill, Director of Crave Sydney International Food Festival, and other gourmands from the media.
Botanic Gardens Trust Aboriginal Education Officers Leon Jinnabinga Burchall and Clarence Slockee were also guests and took the gathered company on a pre-lunch tour of the Gardens’ native plant bounty.

Last weekend, Lola Forester of the La Perouse Aboriginal community, ABC’s Simon Marnie and chef Daniel Dewar helped the Kersh siblings gather warrigal greens and samphire from La Perouse beach for the lunch.

When Raymond and Jennice began serving native cuisine at their restaurant Edna’s Table in 1993, there were 12 native ingredients commercially available. Kangaroo meat had only just been legalised as restaurant fare.

“When you compare our menu in 1993 with what I am able to serve today, you can see how Australian food tastes have matured and how I have been able to develop dishes as more ingredients become available,” Mr Kersh said.

Mr Kersh told the gathering that for years Australian native ingredients were more available in France than here. They had been taken to France 222 years ago by the French Navigator La Perouse who arrived on the Australian coast a few days after Captain Cook.

“If the French had colonised Australia, native food would be our standard fare,” said Mr Kersh.

Mr Kersh said although native foods tend to have short seasonal cycles they have the great benefit of freezing well and maintaining their robust flavour unlike many European foods which lose their flavour when frozen.Jennice Kersh extolled the healthy and medicinal properties of native foods, long known to Aboriginal people. “Kangaroo and Wallaby meat is very lean with no cholesterol and both are rich in iron. Warrigal greens saved Captain Cooks crew from scurvy. Cheese fruit was used by Aboriginal people and offered to white settlers to help them with respiratory illnesses.”

The Kersh siblings grew up in working class Pyrmont under the guiding influence of their Russian Jewish father Abe’s multicultural cooking and their Irish Catholic mother Edna’s expansive hospitality. Encounters as children with soldier-settlers in the Southern Highlands and later with aboriginal people at their brother’s station in the Kimberley introduced them to the native foods of Australia.