A group of students from across South Australia are being given training using native ingredients to set them up for careers in hospitality.
At a fine dining restaurant overlooking the River Torrens and Adelaide’s city skyline, emu, crocodile and kangaroo are on the menu for a group of Aboriginal students.
A wide range of native cuisine is being served at the Red Ochre restaurant in North Adelaide including ingredients such as lemon myrtle, fried saltbush and finger lime.
It’s all part of what those in the industry say is a booming interest in native cuisine from customers, and for this group of students, it’s something they hope to draw inspiration from as they begin their careers in the hospitality industry.
"It involves our culture and I’m very keen on my culture," Ngarrindjeri teenager Kyle Sampson told SBS News.
"Natural ingredients and bush tucker, it’s all good."
“It keeps it [culture] alive and it keeps you knowing who you and your people are.”
Kyle, 17, is from Mount Barker and one of 11 students from the South Australian Aboriginal Secondary Training Academy participating in an inaugural program giving secondary school students the chance to gain a free TAFE level certificate three in hospitality.
The students hail from across the state and come together for three intensive training weeks in Adelaide. The course is fully funded by the state government’s Work Ready program.
There are other restaurants involved in the training program including Italian restaurant Carmines and Co in Port Adelaide.
The program teaches the kids the basics of the hospitality industry, working in kitchens, behind the bar and table service, and hopes to give them the practical experience and knowledge to make them highly employable in the industry.
For Kyle, who hopes to gain work as a bartender or barista when he finishes school, the course has helped him increase his confidence in communicating and working in the industry.
“Growing up, my parents never had any of these opportunities to work in a workplace like this and get a learning education in a good environment. They never had that, so they are pretty happy for me and where I am now,” he said.
Youth unemployment in South Australia is at 15.2 per cent, higher than the national average of 11.6 per cent.
Among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth across the country unemployment rates are at 27 per cent according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics - almost twice as much as the non-Indigenous rate.
The program's training coordinator Dee Slade has been teaching hospitality for almost two decades. She said it is heartening to see the group of young Aboriginal students coming through and learning practical skills in the workplace.
“In the beginning, the students were very quiet they didn’t talk much, they certainly didn’t work together as a group and as the training progressed they have become more confident,” she said.
Some of the students have already gained casual employment through the course and Ms Slade said the industry is supportive of helping young Aboriginal students get their foot in the door.
“Hospitality is very under-represented by Indigenous people, so we would definitely like to see more working in the industry,” she said.
Daniel Reece, head chef at Red Ochre, says interest in native cuisine is growing.
“In the last year or so especially in Adelaide, we have noticed a huge trend of restaurants dropping what they have been doing and focusing on natives. I think we are in an era where people are trying to get past what they have always known and try something different,” he said.
The restaurant, which serves kangaroo tail gyoza and tempura crocodile as staples, is extremely popular with tourists, but Mr Reece said interest was also growing among locals.
Young people, he said, have a lot to offer the industry.
“I think being introduced to hospitality, in general, is a really good thing for any young person to do,” he said.
After trying many of the native flora including sunrise lime, ground wattleseed and karkalla for the first time, 16-year-old Mikaela Ridney-Kropinyeri from Adelaide says she is interested in using them herself in the future as she hopes to gain employment working in the kitchen.
“I would certainly like to add some of the sweeter things to modern-day desserts and give more of an Indigenous twist to the food,” she said.
“Working in an environment where it does happen and learning things from more of a practical side is really good.”