Andrew Fielke hosts the No.1 Chef in the world
Words by Ainsley Campbell
I had some degree of “trepidation” as to meeting the best chef in the world, and to see how he would react to going bush in such vastly different country to his homeland as I waited for the 2 twin engine Cessna’s to land at Leigh Creek, a remote outback town in South Australia. This was where I met Rene Redzepi with media entourage in tow. The passengers offloaded and presented before me were the ‘who’s who’ of the culinary world in Australia. Including stars like Matt Preston of MasterChef, Channel 10 and ABC film crews and some of the most respected food writers in the country. All in all, quite a bunch that needed to be wowed! I was “humbled and honoured” to have been chosen by Rene and his PR team to organise and host a days foraging for native foods in the outback with the Aboriginal people.
Cliff Coulthard from the Andyamatahana clan was with me as we greeted the guests. Travelling by bus we headed off to the remote Iga Warta Settlement, stopping once en-route to collect and sample quandongs and bush plums by the roadside. At Iga Warta the local Aboriginal People greeted us in a traditional welcome. Coulthard, an Aboriginal leader, and I, guided Rene through the scrub to taste a truly amazing variety of flavours, aromas and textures. There was a constant media frenzy, cameras clicking and shooting of film, as Redzepi sampled native grasses like lemon grass and “curry plant”, pig face flowers, and bush banana. A highlight for Redzepi and the group was when he identified a fine “weed-like” plant growing amongst the scrub disregarded by the rest of the group, which he predicted would be a tangy flavour similar to a native plant in Scandinavia. His hunch was correct and the group were equally impressed with his ability to read the Australian landscape in such a manner, and so quickly.
The Andyamatathana People then treated us to a special lunch, we sat in a perfect bush setting, with gum leaves covering the tables, acting as a native tablecloth for the food. They feasted on whole young kangaroo, cooked in the coals, and kangaroo legs wrapped in paperbark and gum leaves to impart a unique smoky flavour to the meat. Pickled bush bananas followed leaving a wonderful tangy taste on the palate.
After lunch we continued our foraging in the surrounding scrub, with Rene remarking to the onlooking media that “what we have seen today is truly, truly unique, amazing”, and that “this is first time that I feel I have really seen something of Australia and felt this land”.
Next we were taken on a walk to a local gorge, where Coulthard imparted his knowledge of the local area, and provided one of the more moving and spiritual speeches of the tour. Coulthard directed the attention of the people to an ancient rock painting estimated to be 35,000 years old. Rock paintings were used by the Indigenous People as a ‘road-map’ of sorts, to tell each other where to find fresh water, and certain plentiful spots to gather food. Coulthard explained that the foraging methods Redzepi was using for his kitchen had been their way of life for countless centuries. The full-circle moment arrived for the group when Coulthard welcomed Redzepi “ back home to his origins”, as the Flinders Ranges area, where the oldest animal fossils are found, is where the Andyamathana believe man evolved.
For me this experience re-affirmed my passion and resolve for my work in the native food industry, and instilled a sense of achievement for organising the event and acting as host for Rene. I felt that the day was not only a huge learning experience for Rene, but also for me, the recent wonderful winter rains yielded so much more than I expected!
It was a truly magical day, which was an amazing experience for all. It is my hope that the interest of all Australians will increase in the area of native foods, just as the world has been captivated by NOMA.