• Chef and restauranteur Nornie Bero will open a new venue dedicated to native ingredients and her favourite foods from the Torres Strait. (Supplied. )Source: Supplied.
'Big Esso' in Melbourne's Federation Square will make native ingredients the "hero" of modern dishes, and harks back to the chef's childhood in the Torres Strait
Dan Butler

24 Jun 2021 - 4:49 PM  UPDATED 24 Jun 2021 - 5:11 PM

For Nornie Bero, cooking was a way of life growing up on Mer Island in the Torres Strait.

"It’s all about catching what you can out of the ocean and taking what you need for the day. We weren’t monetary wealthy but we were definitely always fed, and never hungry. The ocean and land provided..."

She learnt the trade from her father, who sustained their family with his small business. 

"I used to wake up very early in the morning with my dad, and he put a bamboo wall down the middle of our house and turned that half into a tuck shop. That's why my cafe in Yarraville is called Mabu Mabu Tuckshop.

"It remembers him, and what he did to keep the generator running at our place."

Now, Bero is opening a new restaurant and bar in the heart of Melbourne that will place Indigenous food and culture front and centre. 

It's the latest venture for the chef and entrepreneur Nornie Bero, whose company Mabu Mabu already operates  the cafe (Tuck Shop) and a small goods line dedicated to native ingredients. 

The restaurant will be called 'Big Esso', a slang term from Bero's homeland meaning 'big thank you'.

"Big Esso is about saying thanks to this amazing country, (that) we have amazing things in, " she tells NITV. 

"We’re curating our whole place to be very Australian, (we've got) native drinks on the shelf as well... We’ve got bush gin, lemon myrtle gins, Australian whiskey made with native ingredients...

"(It's) all sustainable, from community organisations and drink makers here in Australia, who are sustainably running their distilleries and doing things for their communities."

The venue will have pride of place in Melbourne's Federation Square, and will seat 130 people at communal tables.

It's a setting that Bero hopes will recreate the sense of community she enjoyed growing up, sharing food with family and friends.

"Ever since we opened up we’ve talked about our 'village', and extending our village enough to build that relationship here, get (people) to come here and feel welcome no matter what walk of life they come from.

"That’s why we have Mabu Mabu as our name, and its all about a big table of food, everybody comes and grabs a plate, and 'mabu mabu' means 'bon appetite'."

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