• Being savvy in the kitchen is a skill proud Koori man Nathan Lyons learnt from the dinner table of his childhood. (Lawrence Furzey)Source: Lawrence Furzey
The resourceful family cooking of proud Koori Nathan Lyons has made him a TikTok star.
By
Melissa Woodley

6 Jul 2021 - 10:31 AM  UPDATED 9 Jul 2021 - 9:17 AM

 --- The Cook Up with Adam Liaw airs weeknights on SBS Food at 7.00pm and 10.00pm or stream it free on SBS On Demand. Find Nathan Lyons as part of this week's NAIDOC Week lineup --- 

 

Juggling two jobs and managing six kids is no easy feat, but Wiradjuri man Nathan Lyons has mastered the art of budget-friendly cooking and has his mum to thank for this kitchen savviness.

Lyons and his three siblings were raised by their single mother, Nita, in a housing commission in the inner-city suburbs of Sydney. Relying on Nita's single income meant the family quickly learnt the importance of every last dollar.

"Money was tight, so we had to learn cheap meal ideas and budget foods," Lyons says. "Food was always very well respected and appreciated because it didn't always make it to the dinner table that night."

Nathan Lyons has been inspired to share his modern Indigenous recipe creations with the community that gave so much to him growing up.

His mum became a master of one-pan dinners and would transform cheap ingredients and pantry staples into impressive dishes. Lyons describes his mum's style of cooking as "wholesome Australian food" and says his favourite meals included her curried sausages, pastas and beef stew with damper.

Lyons and his siblings began helping out in the kitchen when they were kids.

"Mum had a rule that the cook doesn't clean up, so I always made sure that I was the cook," he says.

He got his start making packet-mix chocolate cakes, which the family would devour after dinner, and slowly progressed to making scrambled eggs and curries.

"My uncles, my aunties, my nans, they all took their turns in teaching," Lyons recalls.

Learning how to make a shoestring budget stretch and transform pantry goods into gourmet meals is now Lyons specialty. For the past 14 years, he has worked a 24/7 rotating roster to earn enough money to get dinner on the table. Lyons is now a professional at creating affordable, quick and easy recipes that keep the kids happy.

During COVID-19, Nathan has been inspired to share his modern Indigenous recipe creations with the community that gave so much to him growing up. This passion to give back is part of the Aboriginal lifestyle. It was also something he picked up by default from his mother who has always been heavily involved with their local Aboriginal community

"It's about valuing the ones around you, supporting your community, looking out for each other," he says.

"It's about valuing the ones around you, supporting your community, looking out for each other," he says.

Posting under the handle 'Kooking with a Koori', Lyons started sharing #madfeedz recipe videos on TikTok. These humorous videos feature cheap and easy meal ideas that people can visually relate to. It's important to him that these recipes also feature ingredients you'll find in the cupboards of most Aboriginal homes, such as Keen's curry powder and devon.

"When I started, it was just cheap meal ideas, what I'm cooking for the family," he says. "Some night we'll have lamb if we can afford it, next week we're eating mash and devon."

His videos resonated with both the Aboriginal and wider community and Nathan now has over 134,000 followers and 1.4 million likes. His most popular video is about a devon snack pack, which has attracted over 431,000 views.

"We didn't go to Coles or Woolies," he explains. "We got Black & Gold products and that's where the love of devon started."

Nathan also wants to use TikTok as a platform to document what Indigenous Australian soul food is all about.

"It's food that warms the soul, the food that makes you happy...It's about that process, that joy within."

His Aboriginal inspired recipes, such as slow-cooked kangaroo tail curry, crocodile steak, bully beef and johnny cakes, bring back fond memories of being with his mob. Nathan identifies as Wiradjuri, which is the biggest Aboriginal cultural group in NSW.

"I always felt really connected to my culture," he says. "Mum always made sure we knew who we were and where our family is from, and that mob is important.

"It's food that warms the soul, the food that makes you happy," he says. "It's about that process, that joy within."

By sharing these videos, he also hopes to break down running stereotypes about Aboriginal people.

"The view that we are thieves and drug addicts, these misconceptions of us are not the case," Nathan says. "There are a lot of hard-working Indigenous people out there, like myself."

In the future, he wants to learn more about traditional, native ingredients, which were not available to him growing up.

"If someone was willing to teach me about our native ingredients and how to use them, I'm more than happy to learn," Lyons says. "I'm always learning, my mother is always happy to pass that knowledge on and that's just our culture. We take knowledge and we share knowledge…whether that's through paintings or dancing or singing or food."

Lyons is about to publish a cookbook, featuring recipes he grew up eating, along with some of his more recent creations. He wants these recipes to be accessible to everyone, no matter where they come from or how much they have to spend.

"It's trying to help people get back in the kitchen and try something new," Lyons says. "From 12 year olds, right up to 90 year olds, both male and female, Australian and non-Australian…there's something there for everyone."

Nathan still doesn't consider himself a professional chef, simply "a dad making dinner". He plans to ride the wave of popularity and continue to make content as long as people enjoy it.

Love the story? Follow the author Melissa Woodley here: Instagram @sporkdiaries.

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