2006 First Indigenous celebrity chef

Mark Olive working with outback ingredients in Melbourne in January 2008 - Image Nicolás Boullosa , Flickr

The TV series Outback Café was not Mark Olive’s first appearance on the small screen – he had previously hosted a food segment on Message Stick, a magazine-style program about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lifestyles, produced by the ABC’s Indigenous Programs Unit. However, Outback Café was his own series and made “The Black Olive” Australia’s first Indigenous celebrity chef. A book accompanied the series and included recipes for bush foods as well as stories, history and insights into Aboriginal Australia.

Mark Olive is a Bundjalung man whose family came from the Northern Rivers region in NSW. According to his website, his interest in cooking came from watching his mother and aunties in their kitchens. He subsequently trained as a chef and went on to become an advocate for indigenous foods, appearing on MasterChef and travelling internationally to introduce gourmet Indigenous cuisine to a wide audience. In 2018, Olive featured alongside comedian Derek Nannup,  a Noongar man from Western Australia, in the SBS TV series On Country Kitchen.

While Olive may have been the first Indigenous chef to gain celebrity status, others had preceded him in Australia’s restaurant kitchens. By the early 1990s, Jean-Paul Bruneteau had three aboriginal trainee chefs in his Riberries restaurant and even the Hotel Delaney’s in Redfern was experimenting with bush foods, with First Nations staff in the kitchen and front-of-house. At the same time, Tasmanian Chris Jackman was serving his apprenticeship in Melbourne restaurants including Stephanie’s, Paul Bocuse and Capers. He went on to open his own restaurant, Mit Zitrone, in 1995.

In 2019, Mark Olive told the Sydney Morning Herald that he had reservations about the way some chefs approached the use of native ingredients:

“Yes there’s non-Indigenous chefs coming through but they have to have the passion for it, not just seeing it as a curiosity factor,” he says. “It breaks my heart when I see people coming in on the scene to make a quick buck from Aboriginal people to get them where they need to go.

Fortunately, more and more Indigenous chefs are opening their own restaurants throughout Australia, adding to the diversity and distinctiveness to modern Australian cuisine.

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