Mark Olive isn’t your typical television chef. He keeps a low profile online – unashamedly he’s “not a big internet head” – and prefers to have a yarn rather than follow the latest hashtag. He comes from a generation – and indeed a family – that valued hard-work over quick-won success. A proud Bundjalung man and a lover of Australia’s land, Mark is a role model for young Indigenous cooks and an advocate for utilising native ingredients. According to fellow presenter Melissa Leong, he’s also a “very kind and nurturing” person, a hard-working chef who leads by example.
Somehow though, Mark Olive – or The Black Olive as he's also known – has found his way onto the silver screen. This month, you can catch him on NITV for On Country Kitchen, an outback cooking show with a humorous twist. He also joins Melissa and chef Dan Hong as a judge on SBS’s second season of The Chefs’ Line. Fresh off the film set, we chatted to Mark about the show, chef egos and which native ingredients every Aussie pantry needs.
Tell us a little about the show.
What’s really exciting about The Chefs’ Line is it’s a very unique concept. We focus on one cuisine for a whole week, so it’s not like other shows where you’re looking for the drama. It’s focused on the actual stories of the cuisine and the interaction between home cooks and chefs. It’s all friendly banter, nobody comes in there with any serious agenda.
Who was more nervous, the amateurs or the professionals?
I think the chefs were more nervous in instances, but when a restaurant seemed very confident it was intimidating. That said, it’s surprising how many home cooks came through and beat the chefs.
What was it like working with Melissa and Dan?
It was a pleasure working with Dan and Melissa. They were really generous in sharing their knowledge and giving me a better idea about Instagram and how things trend. Dan is vibrant; he’s brash; he’s a young go-getter. It’s great to see that in somebody… he reminds me of what I used to be like.
I come from an era where it was all about focusing on the food and creativity.
So you’re not a social media fiend?
For me it’s all about books – reading magazines and newspapers. I’m not a big internet head. Even though I do know what’s going on, I haven’t got the patience for it. I’d rather just talk to somebody or ring them up. I sound like a nanna but that’s my generation.
The food and television industries are known for being ego-fueled, how do you navigate the big personalities?
I come from an era where it was all about focusing on the food and creativity. That’s how personality was developed. It wasn’t developed through things like reality television. Being an Indigenous person in a really non-Indigenous environment… I think there was also an element of “Yes, I have to prove myself”. Not only that I felt like a role model for other Indigenous people, and to be a role model you can’t go off the handle.
How did you first get into cooking?
I think it was from watching mum and my aunty. Like all Aboriginal kids you hang in the kitchen. To see them make something in a bowl, put it in the oven and pull out a cake, that was magic as an seven year old. I come from an era where it was all about focusing on the food and creativity.
You’re a passionate advocate for Indigenous plants and meats. Which ingredients should we all start experimenting with?
Anybody can utilise native herbs – they’re out there in commercial settings. Things like wattleseed, lemon myrtle, lemon aspen, muntries (native cranberries), quandong and lilly pillies (riberries). There are all these exciting fruits I’d love for people to explore.
Have we got your attention and your tastebuds? The Chefs’ Line premieres Monday 6 August, 6pm weeknights, on SBS followed by an encore screening at 9.30pm on SBS Food Network. Episodes will be available after broadcast via SBS On Demand. Join the conversation #TheChefsLine on Instagram @sbsfood, Facebook @SBSFood and Twitter @SBS_Food. Check out sbs.com.au/thechefsline for episode guides, cuisine lowdowns, recipes and more!
"The spice mix on this fish has been used for centuries in Sri Lanka and it is earthy and spicy. Known in Sri Lanka as Ambul Thial, I now serve it in my restaurants as a modern Sri Lankan dish but I couldn’t resist the challenge to introduce some wonderful Indigenous Australian flavours into this dish. The result was two ancient cultures blending harmoniously through food." Peter Kuruvita, Peter Kuruvita's Coastal Kitchen
Chef Mark Olive puts an Australian twist on the traditional lamb shank by using wallaby and Australian native spices. Kutjera, also known as desert raisin or bush tomato, is a sweet and tangy native spice that works well in stews like this.