• A new pop-up restaurant called Elijah's Kitchen is set to sweep the country with Indigenous flavours, stories and culture. (NITV News)Source: NITV News
For the first time, in a bid to celebrate Indigenous culture around a day that’s causing much divide, the City of Fremantle will be unleashing an Indigenous pop-up restaurant.
By
Laura Morelli

25 Jan 2018 - 3:36 PM  UPDATED 25 Jan 2018 - 7:57 PM

One Day in Fremantle has returned for the second year, as the town works towards changing the date in order to make Australia Day more culturally inclusive.

The festival celebrates culture through music, dance and performances from some of the most prominent artists across the country with many Indigenous acts in the line-up. Aside from listening and watching various elements about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, there will also be the ability to taste a part of it too.

From bush tucker to desert desserts, Australian native flavours will be served up on a plate - and business owner, Zach Green, says that while 26 January is usually associated with "misery", the chance to host a pop-up on a day that should celebrate Indigenous survival is the cherry on top of his cake.

Cooking up a storm

For years, Zach Green dreamed of owning his own business in the hospitality and food industry. When the Gunditjmara/Palawa man completed his qualifications to become a trained chef, he then ventured across Australia to gain experience at all kinds of restaurants.

The 29-year-old knew the path he wanted to go down with his culinary skills – but something was missing.

In 2013, Zach found that missing link which happened to be Yolngu woman and media personality, Leila Gurruwiwi. With Leila's business knowledge after observing her uncle's successful TV show, Marngrook Footy show and Zach's creative zest, their relationship quickly blossomed and the two became partners in both a romantic sense and a business sense. 

Two years later they decided to start their very own business, Elijah's Kitchen - a pop up restaurant that travels around the country providing people with all sorts of experiences, be it food, culture or stories. As ideas started to simmer in Melbourne, the restaurant hit the beaches, streets and restaurants of Darwin, with plans to expand around Australia.

Tasting culture

Elijah’s Kitchen focuses on Indigenous culture, food and stories whilst also boasting native produce and unique recipes in a fine dining style (that Zach says is minus the expensive bill.)

“When you put Indigenous ingredients in mainstream restaurants it’s about fine dining - but we’re doing it in a more casual sense," he said.

"At Elijah's Kitchen, everyone can try native products. The elements we bring means other mobs can have a voice to share their stories and celebrate culture through food.”

They're not just showcasing Indigenous food, but also providing the Indigenous perspective from where the produce comes from, as Zach believes Indigenous people’s stories have been told but somehow have been forgotten.

“We’re giving Indigenous people a chance to tell their stories that have been passed down from generation to generation. When I get to Fremantle I will liaise with Traditional Owners about stories – linking them up with the menu and asking them, ‘what’s a story we can share around our kitchen whereby people can learn more about their culture?’.”

Aboriginal experience

Zach says the idea is about creating a cultural experience of what Aboriginal people have done for years and years – having a yarn and also using shared plates instead of portioned.

“We’ll do traditional hunting and show local mob how to use food in modern ways. Instead of buying meat at an expensive butcher I want to see how locals hunt native animals and link that up with simple salads which would give them a healthy meal,” he said.

“If they teach me how to catch the animals in a traditional way I can show them how to make something delicious with a modern spin.”

From baru (crocodile) laksa to sweet mango chili stingray salad, smoked magpie goose or Barramundi wrapped up in paper bark and even kangaroo tail. The tastes on the menu differ to the place on which the foods being cooked.

Connection to food

Zach and Leila are pleased with providing Australians a taste of Indigenous Australia through pop-up restaurants. Leila says more and more people want to come try the food but their aim is to actually connecting them with the food too.

“In 2017 we weren’t expected to do any pop-ups but we ended up doing four which were all sold out. This gives us such a good indication that people want culture, stories, Indigenous tastes – everything Elijah’s has to offer,” the 30-year-old said.

“I think it’s good in relation to getting people hands on experience. It’s not just about the food, but also the stories and culture, so it’s quite interesting to see where it can go.”

Balancing success

This year marks the 11th year Leila has been featured on the Marngrook Footy show, a popular AFL TV series. Aside from hosting, she is studying business management, does youth work and has a hospitality certificate as well. Leila says being successful is challenging but the main thing is balance.

“Being able to spend time on yourself and ensure you’re ok physically, mentally and emotionally but also working hard on building the foundations of a career.”

But the couple hasn't always experienced success. For most people, with ups comes downs and unfortunately Leila and Zach got dished a dash of devastation.

Dealing with devastation

Two years ago everything seemed to be going great for the young couple. Zach was just beginning to plan his food business and Leila was working, studying, and helping Zach in her spare moments on top of getting ready to become a mum. That was until suddenly one day everything changed with the loss of their son.

“When you first find out you’re going to be a father it does change you a lot, but no one can tell you how you’re going to cope when you’re not going to be a father anymore,” Zach explained.

Despite their loss, Leila said she found strength to continue.   

“I have built up resilience from a young age from all sorts of things, of course it knocks you down but you have to learn to get back up from it.”

Taking their next step into the future, they decided to turn tragedy into something special and use the of their son, who they named Elijah as inspiration for their next journey.

“It’s not every day you can honour your child in something that you love - for me that’s cooking. He’s always going to be there with me while I’m cooking – the kitchen is named after him and that’s very special,” Zach said.

Discovering Indigenous identity

Zach says part of the reason his focus is on Indigenous culture is because of his own journey coming to terms with his identity crisis.

“I didn’t find out I was Aboriginal until I was 12 years of age. My Grandmother wasn’t allowed to admit that she was Aboriginal and if she did, she’d be beaten,” he said.

“When I found out I was Aboriginal I was really proud but my first day at high school changed my perception of being Aboriginal. When I told the class my background everyone’s faces changed.

Accepting being Aboriginal or Aboriginal pride

After that Zach was bullied and labelled racist things such as ‘petrol sniffer’, after that he changed schools and refrained from telling people about his Aboriginality. It wasn’t until he was 16 when he met former Melbourne footballer Jim Stynes at the Reach Foundation Program.

“In front of a crowd he pulled me onto the stage and asked about my heritage. I lied and said I was white. He could see right through me and continued to question my heritage until I suddenly broke down in tears and explained that I was Aboriginal but I was ashamed of admitting it because of everything I had been through,” Zach revealed.

“He turned around and said to me ‘it doesn’t matter what skin colour you are, what religion you believe in or what culture you come from, just trust within yourself and be proud of who you are’.”

Now whenever Zach thinks about his and Leila’s food business or how to share their stories he’s driven by the inspiration Indigenous people across the country.

“It’s about the Aboriginal culture and Aboriginal people leading the way rather than our people and culture in the background.” 

Sharing the taste of Aboriginal Australia

Taking the flavor of Australia to the outside world, Zach and Leila will be bringing a taste of the native bush to the tropical space of Hawaii and the New York. Zach says it’s important to bring two different cultures together and listen, share each other’s stories over a good meal. 

“It’s about time we celebrate Indigenous culture through food,” Zach said.

“A vast majority of non-Aboriginal people make judgement about us but through food they can see us through a whole new lens and instead celebrate our culture through food as it’s done with several other cuisines.”

Leila adds, "what we’re doing is so important is because we’re teaching people about the real Australia. We’re bringing awareness to our culture and that will live on forever.”


 

Pop-up restaurant, Elijah's Kitchen will be cooking up a storm across the country:
27 -28 Jan Fremantle
6 - 13 March Cockatoo Island, Sydney
April - Septmeber, Darwin
2 - 3 June, Melbourne
October - Hawaii
November - New York 

 

To share your story email: laura.morelli@sbs.com.au

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