Mark Olive talks about SBS’s ground-breaking cooking show, The Chef’s Line, and taking bush foods to the screen and kitchens not only in Australia but around the world as well.
What makes the Chef’s Line different from any other cooking show according to Mark Olive is that “it is a show without all the drama, without all of the bitchiness, without all of that sort of drama that goes on with a lot of the reality shows these days. Something viewers can look at and just really enjoy the food the people, the characters, and not only that, we get to learn about the restaurant as well.
The program is a series where viewers get a chance to learn more about the specific culinary and cultural background of the restaurant that featured in the show all week.
The way restaurants and chefs are portrayed in the Chef’s Line is totally different from the way viewers are used to seeing them on their screens.
Basically can passion beat profession?
Mark Olive says that the SBS new cooking show presents chefs who, in his words, “are generous with their knowledge, helping some really passionate home cooks.” He says “it is about celebrating the food, the cuisine and the culture. We’ve got restaurateurs that are part of this show that are so passionate about the chosen cuisine of the week and they are not necessarily from that country. That is a really exciting element to this show. You see people who have fallen in love with different cultures and really embrace that cuisine and the history of that cuisine as well”.
He adds “we have some home cooks that are just so on the ball; that are just so passionate about their food. And they are holding recipes that are decades old and have been in the family for a long time”.
Mark Olive is generally credited with bringing bush foods to the dinner plates across Australia and around the world.
“It is okay to eat this stuff. I call it our national cuisine.”
He says, “My journey is a journey thirty years in the making. I started out in the late seventies, early eighties. During that whole time bush food wasn’t even heard about. I was very pleased being introduced to it by my Aunties. The wattle seed and the lemon myrtle from the Bundjalung region... I am originally from that area. I was introduced to it at a young age. When I started my apprenticeship and finished it I continued using a lot of those elements of bush foods as well as looking into other bush foods as well. It has been a real learning curve for me and I think I have been so fortunate I have been able to be at the forefront of the bush tucker movement. He is known for telling his audience “It is okay to eat this stuff. I call it our national cuisine.”
Thanks to Mark Olive’s contribution, renowned chefs from all over the world like René Redzepi from Denmark, Heston Blumenthal and other leading European chefs are utilizing Australian bush food. These chefs are appreciative of its native tucker's very interesting flavor profile. They also use it in quiet unique ways.
Though bush food is still a niche product Mark Olive believes that it will only grow in popularity. He says, “It is in its infancy. It has only been around for some thirty odd years. And it is only in the last five, eight years that it has really taken off. We’ve got Indigenous people all around the country growing bush food but also we’ve got some farms all around the country that are producing things like the lemon myrtle en masse. You’ve got a lot of Quandong farms. You’ve got people that are growing finger limes, that lovely zesty finger lime, and you’ll see that feature throughout the show as well."
Mark Olive is also keen to pay tribute to the many Indigenous growers and professionals who are now involved in the bush tucker movement. "We’ve got a lot of bush foods that are now being produced. And over the years I’ve been working with Outback Pride; Mike and Gayle from down in South Australia. They really brought it to the commercial front”
Protocols around bush food and what to know before growing it in your backyard
Considering the growing popularity of bush produce the next logical step is about growing it in people’s backyards in the suburbs and use it in the kitchen right across the country.
For this, Mark Olive told Living Black Radio that there are strict but simple rules and protocols to follow. He cites his own discovery journey of more than thirty years working and experimenting with native produce in his cuisine and businesses. “We’ve got a lot of nurseries now that have these plants and fruits out there. Basically it is just looking at it like we look at every other cuisine from around the world. And embracing it it."
Do a bit of research into it and then you start doing it. Everybody has got a curry in their cupboard. Everybody has got their Chinese five spices. Why not some lemon myrtle? Why not some wattle seeds or river-mint? I think it is just about educating the people to really start looking at it and embracing it and growing it in their back yard. Do your homework and see what grows under your particular climate.
Protocols that everyone one has to follow including the famous and powerful.
“When I did my TV show, The Outback Café; I just couldn’t go out there. I would never do that. I always got an invite from the elders. Especially when I went to their country, on their country to feature the bush food that was growing there; things like the desert raisin.
When I did the show it was so unique. It gave a showcase, a window into all of these communities that a lot of non-Australians didn’t even know about. Outback Cafe brought that to the living rooms around Australia.
Mark Olive's show also gave an insight into Indigenous tourism at the time. “When I think about bush food I think about the region that it comes from. What country it is grown on.”
Key protocols regarding bush food
Who says country says culture and protocols. “When we did that show we showed the protocols. We had actual invites into these communities and it was another eye-opener for other Indigenous Australians and also non-indigenous Australians to just peek into that window and see what indigenous life is right around the country. It was an amazing time. And I think it is only getting better. The protocols are in place to go into these communities.
Protocols apply to everyone including megastars from all over the world. Mark Olive recalls how René Redzepi whose restaurant, Noma, was voted number one restaurant in the world several times, also went through the protocols relating to native indigenous foods before prior to him embracing these foods and incorporating them in his own cuisine very successfully.
“Rene had to go out there and get those invites from the community. Which was okay, which was great. All other chefs from around the world that have come here; it is either through an Indigenous person that they get an invite in, or they approach them themselves. Those protocols are very, very strict. And they are necessary.”
Last year the famous Danish chef opened a temporary restaurant in Sydney whose cuisine incorporated bush foods. This restaurant was sold out every day throughout its six months operation. “Basically it sold out and gave people the opportunity to experience this type of cuisine with Australian bush foods. It is getting exciting that we’ve got top chefs from around the world that are looking at our cuisine and think wow!"
Past episodes of the Chef's Line can be viewed on SBS On Demand.