The first thing chef Zach Green wants you to know about his restaurant Elijah’s Kitchen is that it’s not about him.
“It’s not about me as a chef. I don’t do it for the fame or the media attention, and I don’t do it to be rich,” he tells SBS Food.
“It’s more about our people, our stories, our food being out in front. Elijah’s is leading the way for other Indigenous Australians. It’s a platform for their voice."
Green is a Gunditjmara and Palawa man who honed his passion for cooking as a teenager working as a kitchen hand in Abom Café Bar Bistro in Mount Buller, Victoria.
He runs Elijah’s Kitchen with his partner Leila Gurruwiwi, a Yolngu woman who Green refers to as “the big boss” (both pictured below).
After a series of successful pop ups in cities across the country since 2015, the pair have decided to make it official - they’re setting up a semi-permanent site for Elijah’s in Darwin: a commercial kitchen on wheels, and it’s slated to open in April this year.
The restaurant is named after the pair’s son, whom they sadly lost to miscarriage in 2015.
“Cooking’s been that part of me that’s taken me to a new place where I could cope,” says Green. “It’s an outlet for me, and a way to remember my son in a positive way.”
If you’ve been lucky enough to attend an Elijah’s pop up event, you’ll know that Green is an explosively creative chef.
His dishes are the result of finely-tuned intuition and bravery, and they’ve earned him quite a reputation around the country.
He’s worked hard to put dishes like cured crocodile (it tastes like chicken) and green-ant cheesecake on the map.
“I’ll usually only plan my menus two days in advance,” he tells SBS. “I’m very impulsive."
This enviable spontaneity in the kitchen is grounded in Green’s Aboriginal heritage, he says.
“If we go out hunting in an Indigenous community, we don’t know what we’re going to catch because we don’t know what’s out there at the moment, we don’t know what we’re going to come across.
“That’s something that’s really instilled in my cooking, and I love that about being a chef. Obviously it’ll be a bit different in April as we’ll be trading four nights a week, but the menu will change week to week.”
"We don’t know what we’re going to catch because we don’t know what’s out there at the moment, we don’t know what we’re going to come across."
Green, who discovered he was Aboriginal at 12, views food as an integral part of Indigenous Australian cultures, and an essential vehicle for the exchange of ideas, education and maybe even reconciliation.
There’s a story behind every single ingredient he uses, Green says, and each story is as important as the ingredient itself.
“A lot of people don’t realise the significance of native animals in Aboriginal communities – from the complex kinship systems to the animal totems.
“At Elijah’s, we’re telling the stories of those animals and we’re talking about the significance they bring to those communities.
"It’s a whole different ball game because I don’t think Australia has seen that yet,” he says.
“I know a lot of chefs using Indigenous ingredients, and they’re all magnificent chefs, but if they’re going to use those ingredients they need to be prepared to tell those stories, because everyone who’s using those ingredients has a pivotal role to play and that could be the way forward for reconciliation.
“If we can’t share those stories, we’re missing out on something really special here, where we could change people’s perceptions about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures through food.”
Opening April 2018, with locations in Darwin changing week to week.