2018 looks set to be the year of native Australian food, with restaurants and cafes bringing Indigenous ingredients to the fore. But those offering a lesson in culture and connection to land are rarer. In the historical Victorian Service building on Fitzroy’s Gertrude Street, you’ll find Charcoal Lane, a booming social enterprise restaurant by Mission Australia harnessing the powers of Australia’s rich Indigenous foods while offering aspiring Indigenous chefs a leg up.
“Charcoal Lane’s diners are treated to a journey of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander food and culture at every sitting,” says Troy Crellin, Charcoal Lane’s Program Manager. “It offers a unique, positive dining experience that unites Aboriginal heritage with Fitzroy’s stylish gastronomy experience while providing a supported, hands-on traineeship program for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander aspiring chefs and hospitality stars.”
"The success of the program relies on customers choosing to dine and spend their money on not only a unique, Australian dining experience but to invest in the futures of young people."
Rather than just plating up a delicious serve of warrigal greens or adding a pop of finger lime to a salad, the staff at Charcoal Lane are serving food with a side of history. Take the chef’s tasting plate, for instance; it’s delivered to the table by a trainee chef or food and beverage assistant who introduces themselves, talks about their own personal Aboriginal community and explains why the food they’re serving holds special meaning for them.
“It is a powerful experience not only for the guest, but also for the empowering impact for that young person,” says Crellin.
Behind the revamped building’s canary yellow doors hangs abstract panelled ceiling artwork by Aboriginal artist, Gayle Maddiga. The contemporary menu, designed by executive chef Greg Hampton, far surpasses bush tucker; it’s a celebration of Aboriginal culture in the past, present and future – each plate is a reminder of a culinary story spanning hundreds of generations.
After completing traineeships at the restaurant, the young locals are fully equipped with the skills and accredited hospitality qualifications to launch their hospitality careers.
“The program’s impact extends far beyond the students who work here,” says Crellin. “It also has a positive impact on their families, the local Aboriginal community, and of course the customers who frequent the restaurant and have the opportunity to engage with Aboriginal culture through food.
“As a social enterprise, the restaurant and success of the program relies on customers choosing to dine and spend their money on not only a unique, Australian dining experience but to invest in the futures of young people.”
Tue - Sat, 12pm - 3pm; 6pm - 10.30pm
136 Gertrude St, Fitzroy, Melbourne, VIC